Mesenchymal stem (MS) cells are excellent candidates for cell-based therapeutic strategies to regenerate injured tissue. Although human MS cells can be isolated from bone marrow and directed to differentiate by means of an osteogenic pathway, the regulation of cell-fate determination is not well understood. Recent reports identify critical roles for microRNAs (miRNAs), regulators of gene expression either by inhibiting the translation or by stimulating the degradation of target mRNAs.
In this study, we employed a library of miRNA inhibitors to evaluate the role of miRNAs in early osteogenic differentiation of human MS cells. We discovered that miR-148b, -27a and -489 are essential for the regulation of osteogenesis: miR-27a and miR-489 down-regulate while miR-148b up-regulates differentiation. Modulation of these miRNAs induced osteogenesis in the absence of other external differentiation cues and restored osteogenic potential in high passage number human MS cells.
Overall, we have demonstrated the utility of the functional profiling strategy for unraveling complex miRNA pathways. Our findings indicate that miRNAs regulate early osteogenic differentiation in human MS cells: miR-148b, -27a, and -489 were found to play a critical role in osteogenesis.