Marker profile for the evaluation of human umbilical artery smooth muscle cell quality obtained by different isolation and culture methods


Even though umbilical cord arteries are a common source of vascular smooth muscle cells, the lack of reliable marker profiles have not facilitated the isolation of human umbilical artery smooth muscle cells (HUASMC). For accurate characterization of HUASMC and cells in their environment, the expression of smooth muscle and mesenchymal markers was analyzed in umbilical cord tissue sections. The resulting marker profile was then used to evaluate the quality of HUASMC isolation and culture methods. HUASMC and perivascular-Wharton’s jelly stromal cells (pv-WJSC) showed positive staining for α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), smooth muscle myosin heavy chain (SM-MHC), desmin, vimentin and CD90. Anti-CD10 stained only pv-WJSC. Consequently, HUASMC could be characterized as α-SMA+ , SM-MHC+ , CD10− cells, which are additionally negative for endothelial markers (CD31 and CD34). Enzymatic isolation provided primary HUASMC batches with 90–99 % purity, yet, under standard culture conditions, contaminant CD10+ cells rapidly constituted more than 80 % of the total cell population. Contamination was mainly due to the poor adhesion of HUASMC to cell culture plates, regardless of the different protein coatings (fibronectin, collagen I or gelatin). HUASMC showed strong attachment and long-term viability only in 3D matrices. The explant isolation method achieved cultures with only 13–40 % purity with considerable contamination by CD10+ cells. CD10+ cells showed spindle-like morphology and up-regulated expression of α-SMA and SM-MHC upon culture in smooth muscle differentiation medium. Considering the high contamination risk of HUASMC cultures by CD10+ neighboring cells and their phenotypic similarities, precise characterization is mandatory to avoid misleading results.

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The authors want to thank Nicole Kronimus for support in cell isolation, Hannes Zwickl and Florian Halbwirt for their help and advice in 3D cell culture, Kerstin Hingerl for performing the immunohistochemistry, Carla Tripisciano and Michael Fischer for their help in publication work.

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Correspondence to D. Pfeiffer.

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Mazza, G., Roßmanith, E., Lang-Olip, I. et al. Marker profile for the evaluation of human umbilical artery smooth muscle cell quality obtained by different isolation and culture methods. Cytotechnology 68, 701–711 (2016).

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  • Human umbilical artery smooth muscle cells (HUASMC)
  • Wharton’s jelly stromal cells
  • Isolation
  • Characterization
  • Markers
  • CD10