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Mesenchymal stem cells reside in anterior cruciate ligament remnants in situ

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It has been reported that the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) has certain self-healing ability after acute injury or with primary suture repair. Many studies have confirmed that a remnant preservation technique with ACL reconstruction contributes to biological augmentation for ACL healing. However, it remains unclear whether mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) reside in ACL remnants in situ. The aim of this study was to investigate the methods of culture and identification of MSC derived from the remnants of ACL rupture patients and to analyse these MSC’s properties.


The cells of ACL remnants from the ACL rupture patients were isolated by the methods of enzymatic digestion and cultured in vitro to the third passage under the microscope to observe their morphology and growth status. The third passage of isolated cells was analysed for the identification of immunophenotype, osteogenic, adipogenic and chondrogenic differentiation.


On the third to fifth days of in vitro culture, a few cells of long fusiform shape appeared and were adherent to the plastic walls. On the sixth to ninth days, cells clustered and colonies were observed. The third passage cells showed uniform cell morphology and good proliferation, with appearance of the typical surface markers of MSC, CD29, CD44, CD90 and CD105. The surface markers of CD34 and CD45 of haematopoietic stem cells were not expressed. Under appropriate conditions of in vitro culture, isolated cells could be differentiated into osteoblasts that deposit mineralised matrix and express early osteogenic markers, adipocytes that accumulate lipid droplets in cytoplasm and chondrocytes that secrete chondrogenic-specific matrix aggrecan and collagen II. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis demonstrated that the specific mRNA expression of osteogenesis, adipogenesis and chondrogenesis increased significantly compared with the control groups at day zero.


Stem cells derived in situ from the human ACL stump were successfully isolated and characterised. Those isolated cells were identified as MSC according to their adherent ability, morphology, surface markers and multilineage differentiation potential. MSC derived from ACL remnants could be a potential source of seeding cells for ligament regeneration.

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This study was funded by National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81301560), China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (No. 2012 M521698).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Jian Li.

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Fu, W., Li, Q., Tang, X. et al. Mesenchymal stem cells reside in anterior cruciate ligament remnants in situ. International Orthopaedics (SICOT) 40, 1523–1530 (2016).

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