Journal of Molecular Medicine

, Volume 82, Issue 1, pp 49–55 | Cite as

Telomere length and telomerase activity during expansion and differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells and chondrocytes

  • Dominik ParschEmail author
  • Jörg Fellenberg
  • Tim H. Brümmendorf
  • Anna-Maria Eschlbeck
  • Wiltrud Richter
Original Article


Chondrocyte ex vivo expansion currently performed to replace damaged articular surfaces is associated with a loss of telomeric repeats similar to decades of aging in vivo. This might affect the incidence or time of onset of age-related disorders within transplanted cells or tissues. This study examined whether more immature progenitor cells, such as mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), which can be expanded and subsequently differentiated into chondrocytes is advantageous regarding telomere-length related limitations of expansion protocols. Primary chondrocytes and bone-marrow-derived MSC were isolated from 12 donors, expanded separately to 4×106 cells, and (re-)differentiated as three-dimensional chondrogenic spheroids. Cells were collected during expansion, after three-dimensional culturing and chondrogenic differentiation, and sequential analyses of telomere length and telomerase activity were performed. Surprisingly, telomeres of expanded MSC were significantly shorter than those from expanded chondrocytes from the same donor (11.4±2.5 vs. 13.4±2.2 kb) and tended to remain shorter after differentiation in chondrogenic spheroids (11.9±1.8 vs. 13.0± kb). While telomere lengths in native chondrocytes and MSC were not related to the age of the donor, significant negative correlations with age were observed in expanded (136 bp/year), three-dimensionally reconstituted (188 bp/year), and redifferentiated (229 bp/year) chondrocytes. Low levels of telomerase activity were found in MSC and chondrocytes during expansion and after (re-)differentiation to chondrogenic spheroids. In terms of replicative potential, as determined by telomere length, ex vivo expansion followed by chondrogenic differentiation of MSC did not provide a benefit compared to the expansion of adult chondrocytes. However, accelerated telomere shortening with age during expansion and redifferentiation argues for an “age phenotype” in chondrocytes as opposed to MSC and suggests an advantage for the use of MSC especially in older individuals and protocols requiring extensive expansion


Telomere length Telomerase activity Mesenchymal stem cells Chondrocytes Aging 



Dulbecco’s modified Eagle medium


Mesenchymal stem cell



We thank Corinne von Arx for excellent technical assistance and Dr. Sven Schneider for expert statistical analysis. This research was supported by a grant from the research fund of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Heidelberg, Germany.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dominik Parsch
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jörg Fellenberg
    • 1
  • Tim H. Brümmendorf
    • 2
  • Anna-Maria Eschlbeck
    • 1
  • Wiltrud Richter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Orthopedic SurgeryUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  2. 2.Department of Hematology and OncologyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany

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