Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology Volume 174, 2006, pp 249-282

Mesenchymal Stem Cells: Isolation, In Vitro Expansion and Characterization

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), one type of adult stem cell, are easy to isolate, culture, and manipulate in ex vivo culture. These cells have great plasticity and the potential for therapeutic applications, but their properties are poorly understood. MSCs can be found in bone marrow and in many other tissues, and these cells are generally identified through a combination of poorly defined physical, phenotypic, and functional properties; consequently, multiple names have been given to these cell populations. Murine MSCs have been directly applied to a wide range of murine models of diseases, where they can act as therapeutic agents per se, or as vehicles for the delivery of therapeutic genes. In addition to their systemic engraftment capabilities, MSCs show great potential for the replacement of damaged tissues such as bone, cartilage, tendon, and ligament. Their pharmacological importance is related to four points: MSCs secrete biologically important molecules, express specific receptors, can be genetically manipulated, and are susceptible to molecules that modify their natural behavior. Due to their low frequency and the lack of knowledge on cell surface markers and their location of origin, most information concerning MSCs is derived from in vitro studies. The search for the identity of the mesenchymal stem cell has depended mainly on three culture systems: the CFU-F assay, the analysis of bone marrow stroma, and the cultivation of mesenchymal stem cell lines. Other cell populations, more or less related to the MSC, have also been described. Isolation and culture conditions used to expand these cells rely on the ability of MSCs, although variable, to adhere to plastic surfaces. Whether these conditions selectively favor the expansion of different bone marrow precursors or cause similar cell populations to acquire different phenotypes is not clear. The cell populations could also represent different points of a hierarchy or a continuum of differentiation. These issues reinforce the urgent need for a more comprehensive view of the mesenchymal stem cell identity and characteristics.