Dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs) can be driven into odontoblast, osteoblast, and chondrocyte lineages in different inductive media. However, the differentiation potential of naive DPSCs after serial passaging in the routine culture system has not been fully elucidated.
DPSCs were isolated from human/rat dental pulps by the magnetic activated cell sorting based on STRO-1 expression, cultured and passaged in the conventional culture media. The biological features of STRO-1+ DPSCs at the 1st and 9th passages were investigated. During the long-term passage, the proliferation ability of human STRO-1+ DPSCs was downregulated as indicated by the growth kinetics. When compared with STRO-1+ DPSCs at the 1st passage (DPSC-P1), the expression of mature osteoblast-specific genes/proteins (alkaline phosphatase, bone sialoprotein, osterix, and osteopontin), odontoblast-specific gene/protein (dentin sialophosphoprotein and dentin sialoprotein), and chondrocyte-specific gene/protein (type II collagen) was significantly upregulated in human STRO-1+ DPSCs at the 9th passage (DPSC-P9). Furthermore, human DPSC-P9 cells in the mineralization-inducing media presented higher levels of alkaline phosphatase at day 3 and day 7 respectively, and produced more mineralized matrix than DPSC-P9 cells at day 14. In vivo transplantation results showed that rat DPSC-P1 cell pellets developed into dentin, bone and cartilage structures respectively, while DPSC-P9 cells can only generate bone tissues.
These findings suggest that STRO-1+ DPSCs consist of several interrelated subpopulations which can spontaneously differentiate into odontoblasts, osteoblasts, and chondrocytes. The differentiation capacity of these DPSCs changes during cell passaging, and DPSCs at the 9th passage restrict their differentiation potential to the osteoblast lineage in vivo.