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1.  Identification of Novel SHOX Target Genes in the Developing Limb Using a Transgenic Mouse Model 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e98543.
Deficiency of the human short stature homeobox-containing gene (SHOX) has been identified in several disorders characterized by reduced height and skeletal anomalies such as Turner syndrome, Léri-Weill dyschondrosteosis and Langer mesomelic dysplasia as well as isolated short stature. SHOX acts as a transcription factor during limb development and is expressed in chondrocytes of the growth plates. Although highly conserved in vertebrates, rodents lack a SHOX orthologue. This offers the unique opportunity to analyze the effects of human SHOX expression in transgenic mice. We have generated a mouse expressing the human SHOXa cDNA under the control of a murine Col2a1 promoter and enhancer (Tg(Col2a1-SHOX)). SHOX and marker gene expression as well as skeletal phenotypes were characterized in two transgenic lines. No significant skeletal anomalies were found in transgenic compared to wildtype mice. Quantitative and in situ hybridization analyses revealed that Tg(Col2a1-SHOX), however, affected extracellular matrix gene expression during early limb development, suggesting a role for SHOX in growth plate assembly and extracellular matrix composition during long bone development. For instance, we could show that the connective tissue growth factor gene Ctgf, a gene involved in chondrogenic and angiogenic differentiation, is transcriptionally regulated by SHOX in transgenic mice. This finding was confirmed in human NHDF and U2OS cells and chicken micromass culture, demonstrating the value of the SHOX-transgenic mouse for the characterization of SHOX-dependent genes and pathways in early limb development.
PMCID: PMC4041798  PMID: 24887312
2.  No effect of subperiosteal growth factor application on periosteal neo-chondrogenesis in osteoperiosteal bone grafts for osteochondral defect repair 
International Orthopaedics  2013;37(6):1171-1178.
The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of subperiosteal injection of chondroinductive growth factors on the histological and biomechanical outcome of autologous osteoperiosteal grafts.
Thirty six standardised osteochondral defects were created in the trochlear groove of 18 Göttinger Minipigs and evaluated after six, 12 and 52 weeks. Defects were treated with press-fit implantation of autologous osteoperiosteal cylindrical block-grafts with or without subperiosteal injection of a chondroinductive growth factor mixture (GFM).
Histomorphological analysis showed complete osseointegration of all grafts from six weeks. The periosteum remained in place in 35 of 36 cases. Fibrocartilagineous repair tissue formation occurred at the cambium layer with a maximum at 12 weeks in both groups. Histomorphological grading and biomechanical testing showed highest values at 12 weeks, with signs of tissue degradation at one year. There was no significant difference between both groups.
Transplantation of autologous osteoperiosteal grafts is an effective method to restore subchondral bone defects, but not the overlying cartilage as the repair tissue deteriorates in the long term. Subperiosteal growth factors injection did not stimulate tissue differentiation on a biomechanical and histomorphological level.
PMCID: PMC3664158  PMID: 23503670
3.  Intermittent PTHrP(1–34) Exposure Augments Chondrogenesis and Reduces Hypertrophy of Mesenchymal Stromal Cells 
Stem Cells and Development  2014;23(20):2513-2523.
Phenotype instability and premature hypertrophy prevent the use of human mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) for cartilage regeneration. Aim of this study was to investigate whether intermittent supplementation of parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP), as opposed to constant treatment, can beneficially influence MSC chondrogenesis and to explore molecular mechanisms below catabolic and anabolic responses. Human MSCs subjected to chondrogenic induction in high-density culture received PTHrP(1–34), forskolin, dbcAMP, or PTHrP(7–34) either constantly or via 6-h pulses (three times weekly), before proteoglycan, collagen type II, and X deposition; gene expression; and alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity were assessed. While constant application of PTHrP(1–34) suppressed chondrogenesis of MSCs, pulsed application significantly increased collagen type 2 (COL2A1) gene expression and the collagen type II, proteoglycan, and DNA content of pellets after 6 weeks. Collagen type 10 (COL10A1) gene expression was little affected but Indian hedgehog (IHH) expression and ALP activity were significantly downregulated by pulsed PTHrP. A faster response to PTHrP exposure was recorded for ALP activity over COL2A1 regulation, suggesting that signal duration is critical for catabolic versus anabolic reactions. Stimulation of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP)/protein kinase A (PKA) signaling by forskolin reproduced major effects of both treatment modes, whereas application of PTHrP(7–34) capable of protein kinase C (PKC) signaling was ineffective. Pulsed PTHrP exposure of MSCs stimulated chondrogenesis and reduced endochondral differentiation apparently uncoupling chondrogenic matrix deposition from hypertrophic marker expression. cAMP/PKA was the major signaling pathway triggering the opposing effects of both treatment modes. Intermittent application of PTHrP represents an important novel means to improve chondrogenesis of MSCs and may be considered as a supporting clinical-treatment mode for MSC-based cartilage defect regeneration.
PMCID: PMC4186799  PMID: 24836507
4.  Different culture media affect growth characteristics, surface marker distribution and chondrogenic differentiation of human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stromal cells 
Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (BM-MSCs) play an important role in modern tissue engineering, while distinct variations of culture media compositions and supplements have been reported. Because MSCs are heterogeneous regarding their regenerative potential and their surface markers, these parameters were compared in four widely used culture media compositions.
MSCs were isolated from bone marrow and expanded in four established cell culture media. MSC yield/1000 MNCs, passage time and growth index were observed. In P4, typical MSC surface markers were analysed by fluorescence cytometry. Additionally, chondrogenic, adipogenic and osteogenic differentiation potential were evaluated.
Growth index and P0 cell yield varied importantly between the media. The different expansion media had a significant influence on the expression of CD10, CD90, CD105, CD140b CD146 and STRO-1. While no significant differences were observed regarding osteogenic and adipogenic differentiation, chondrogenic differentiation was superior in medium A as reflected by GAG/DNA content.
The choice of expansion medium can have a significant influence on growth, differentiation potential and surface marker expression of mesenchymal stromal cells, which is of fundamental importance for tissue engineering procedures.
PMCID: PMC3734101  PMID: 23898974
Mesenchymal stromal cells; Expansion media; Surface markers; Osteogenic differentiation; Chondrogenic differentiation; Adipogenic differentiation
5.  BMP and TGFbeta pathways in human central chondrosarcoma: enhanced endoglin and Smad 1 signaling in high grade tumors 
BMC Cancer  2012;12:488.
As major regulators of normal chondrogenesis, the bone morphogenic protein (BMP) and transforming growth factor β (TGFB) signaling pathways may be involved in the development and progression of central chondrosarcoma. In order to uncover their possible implication, the aim of this study was to perform a systematic quantitative study of the expression of BMPs, TGFBs and their receptors and to assess activity of the corresponding pathways in central chondrosarcoma.
Gene expression analysis was performed by quantitative RT-PCR in 26 central chondrosarcoma and 6 healthy articular cartilage samples. Expression of endoglin and nuclear localization of phosphorylated Smad1/5/8 and Smad2 was assessed by immunohistochemical analysis.
The expression of TGFB3 and of the activin receptor-like kinase ALK2 was found to be significantly higher in grade III compared to grade I chondrosarcoma. Nuclear phosphorylated Smad1/5/8 and Smad2 were found in all tumors analyzed and the activity of both signaling pathways was confirmed by functional reporter assays in 2 chondrosarcoma cell lines. Immunohistochemical analysis furthermore revealed that phosphorylated Smad1/5/8 and endoglin expression were significantly higher in high-grade compared to low-grade chondrosarcoma and correlated to each other.
The BMP and TGFβ signaling pathways were found to be active in central chondrosarcoma cells. The correlation of Smad1/5/8 activity to endoglin expression suggests that, as described in other cell types, endoglin could enhance Smad1/5/8 signaling in high-grade chondrosarcoma cells. Endoglin expression coupled to Smad1/5/8 activation could thus represent a functionally important signaling axis for the progression of chondrosarcoma and a regulator of the undifferentiated phenotype of high-grade tumor cells.
PMCID: PMC3495847  PMID: 23088614
Conventional central chondrosarcoma; Bone tumor; Chondrogenic differentiation; Bone morphogenic proteins; Transforming growth factor β
6.  Proliferation as a Requirement for In Vitro Chondrogenesis of Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells 
Stem Cells and Development  2012;21(12):2160-2169.
During embryonic cartilage development, proliferation and differentiation are tightly linked with a transient cell cycle arrest observed during determination and before main extracellular matrix production. Aim of this study was to address whether these steps are imitated during in vitro differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and are crucial for a proper chondrogenesis. Human MSCs were expanded in distinct media and subjected to pellet culture in chondrogenic medium. Cells were labeled with 5-iodo-2′-deoxyuridin (IdU) or treated with mitomycin C at various time points during culture. Apoptosis was detected by cleaved caspase 3. Proliferation rate of expanded MSCs at start of pellet culture showed a positive correlation with chondrogenesis according to DNA content, proteoglycan deposition, collagen type II content, and final pellet size. Evenly distributed IdU signals at day 1 diminished and became restricted primarily to the periphery by day 3. Between days 10 and 21, IdU-positive cells were detected throughout coinciding with collagen type II positivity. Little IdU incorporation occurred after day 21 and in areas of strong matrix deposition. DNA content decreased and apoptosis was detected up to day 14. Irreversible growth arrest by mitomycin C fully blocked chondrogenic differentiation and seemed to arrest differentiation at the stage reached at treatment. In conclusion, chondrogenesis involved a transient proliferation phase appearing simultaneously with start of collagen type II deposition and growth was crucial for proper chondrogenesis. Growth and differentiation steps, thus, seemed closely coordinated and resembled, with respect to proliferation, stages known from embryonic cartilage development. Stimulation of proliferation and prevention of early apoptosis are attractive goals to further improve MSC chondrogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3411365  PMID: 22229819
7.  Chondrogenesis of mesenchymal stem cells: role of tissue source and inducing factors 
Multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) are an attractive cell source for cell therapy in cartilage. Although their therapeutic potential is clear, the requirements and conditions for effective induction of chondrogenesis in MSCs and for the production of a stable cartilaginous tissue by these cells are far from being understood. Different sources of MSCs have been considered for cartilage tissue engineering, mainly based on criteria of availability, as for adipose tissue, or of proximity to cartilage and the joint environment in vivo, as for bone marrow and synovial tissues. Focussing on human MSCs, this review will provide an overview of studies featuring comparative analysis of the chondrogenic differentiation of MSCs from different sources. In particular, it will examine the influence of the cells' origin on the requirements for the induction of chondrogenesis and on the phenotype achieved by the cells after differentiation.
PMCID: PMC2983444  PMID: 20959030
8.  Reduced Reactivation from Dormancy but Maintained Lineage Choice of Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells with Donor Age 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e22980.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) are promising for cell-based regeneration therapies but up to date it is still controversial whether their function is maintained throughout ageing. Aim of this study was to address whether frequency, activation in vitro, replicative function, and in vitro lineage choice of MSC is maintained throughout ageing to answer the question whether MSC-based regeneration strategies should be restricted to younger individuals. MSC from bone marrow aspirates of 28 donors (5–80 years) were characterized regarding colony-forming unit-fibroblast (CFU-F) numbers, single cell cloning efficiency (SSCE), osteogenic, adipogenic and chondrogenic differentiation capacity in vitro. Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity, mineralization, Oil Red O content, proteoglycan- and collagen type II deposition were quantified. While CFU-F frequency was maintained, SSCE and early proliferation rate decreased significantly with advanced donor age. MSC with higher proliferation rate before start of induction showed stronger osteogenic, adipogenic and chondrogenic differentiation. MSC with high osteogenic capacity underwent better chondrogenesis and showed a trend to better adipogenesis. Lineage choice was, however, unaltered with age. Conclusion: Ageing influenced activation from dormancy and replicative function of MSC in a way that it may be more demanding to mobilize MSC to fast cell growth at advanced age. Since fast proliferation came along with high multilineage capacity, the proliferation status of expanded MSC rather than donor age may provide an argument to restrict MSC-based therapies to certain individuals.
PMCID: PMC3151268  PMID: 21850247
9.  Methods to monitor distribution and metabolic activity of mesenchymal stem cells following in vivo injection into nucleotomized porcine intervertebral discs 
European Spine Journal  2009;19(4):601-612.
Intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration involves a series of biochemical and morphological changes leading to loss of spinal stability and flexibility. Cell therapy is promising to reconstitute IVDs with new cells, however, sustained metabolic activity seems crucial for an active contribution to regeneration. The aim of the present study was to establish methods for separate follow up of persistence and activity of autologous porcine mesenchymal stem cells (pMSC) after implantation into IVDs of Goettingen minipigs in vivo in order to conclude about the potential of such an intervention strategy. For quantitative follow up, the transfer matrix was supplemented with Al2O3 particles and pMSC which were retrovirally labeled with firefly luciferase (pMSC-Luc). Six mature Goettingen minipigs underwent matrix based cell transfer after partial nucleotomy of lumbar IVDs (n = 24). Day 0 and day 3 segments were analyzed for retained volume of Al2O3 particles by micro-computed-tomography (μCT) and for cell activity by luciferase enzyme assessment. Three days after injection a reduction of Al2O3 particles (P = 0.028) to about 9% and of pMSC-Luc activity to about 7% of initial values (P = 0.003) was detected, which suggests loss of 90% of the implant material under in vivo conditions without evidence for reduced pMSC-Luc metabolic activity (P = 0.887). In conclusion, separate follow up of implant material and cell activity was possible and unravels problems with in vivo implant persistence after annular puncture rather than quick loss of cell activity. Therefore, IVD-regeneration-strategies should increasingly focus on annulus reconstruction in order to reduce implant loss due to annular failure.
PMCID: PMC2899826  PMID: 20039083
Cell transfer; Intervertebral disc; μCT; Luciferase; Retrovirus; Fibrin matrix; Disc degeneration
10.  Sensitivity of notochordal disc cells to mechanical loading: an experimental animal study 
European Spine Journal  2009;19(1):113-121.
The immature disc nucleus pulposus (NP) consists of notochordal cells (NCs). With maturation NCs disappear in humans, to be replaced by chondrocyte-like mature NP cells (MNPCs); this change in cell phenotype coincidences with early signs of disc degeneration. The reasons for NC disappearance are important to understand disc degeneration, but remain unknown, yet. This study investigated, whether loading induced a change from a notochordal nucleus phenotype to a chondrocyte-like one. An in vivo disc compression model with fixateur externe was used in 36 mature rabbits. Discs were compressed for different time periods (1, 28, 56 days), and compared with uncompressed control discs (56 days without treatment), and discs with sham compression (28 days). Nucleus cell phenotype was determined by histology and immunohistochemistry. NCs, but not MNPCs highly expressed bone-morphogenetic-protein 2 and cytokeratin 8, thus NC and MNPC numbers could be determined. A histologic score was used to detect structural endplate changes after compression (28 days). Control and sham compressed discs contained around 70% NCs and 30% MNPCs, to be decreased to <10% NCs after 28–56 days of loading. NC density fell sharply by >50% after 28–56 days of compression (P < 0.05 vs. controls). Signs of decreased endplate cellularity and increased endplate sclerosis and fibrosis were found after loading. These experiments show that NCs were less resistant to mechanical stress than MNPCs suggesting that increased intradiscal pressures after loading, and limited nutrition through structurally altered endplates could instigate the disappearance of NCs.
PMCID: PMC2899741  PMID: 19936803
Notochordal disc cells; Mechanical stress; Disc compression; Animal model
11.  Influence of depression symptoms on serum tumor necrosis factor-α of patients with chronic low back pain 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2010;12(5):R186.
Patients with chronic low back pain (cLBP) have high rates of comorbid psychiatric disorders, mainly depression. Recent evidence suggests that depressive symptoms and pain, as interacting factors, have an effect on the circulating levels of inflammatory markers relevant to coronary artery disease. Our previous work showed a higher serum level of an inflammatory marker tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNFα) in patients with cLBP, which did not correlate with intensity of low back pain alone. In the present study we investigated the cross-sectional associations of depressive symptoms, low back pain and their interaction with circulating levels of TNFα.
Each group of 29 patients with cLBP alone or with both cLBP and depression was age-matched and sex-matched with 29 healthy controls. All subjects underwent a blood draw for the assessment of serum TNFα and completed a standardised questionnaire regarding medication, depression scores according to the German version of Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), pain intensity from a visual analogue scale, and back function using the Roland and Morris questionnaire. The correlations between TNFα level and these clinical parameters were analysed.
There were no differences in TNFα level between cLBP patients with and without depression. Both cLBP patients with (median = 2.51 pg/ml, P = 0.002) and without (median = 2.58 pg/ml, P = 0.004) depression showed significantly higher TNFα serum levels than healthy controls (median = 0 pg/ml). The pain intensity reported by both patient groups was similar, while the patients with depression had higher CES-D scores (P < 0.001) and worse back function (P < 0.001). The variance analysis showed that the interaction between TNFα level and pain intensity, CES-D scores, sex, body mass index and medication was statistically significant.
Depression as a comorbidity to cLBP did not influence the serum TNFα level. It seems that TNFα somehow acts as a mediator in both cLBP and depression, involving similar mechanisms that will be interesting to follow in further studies.
PMCID: PMC2991021  PMID: 20937109
12.  Early and stable upregulation of collagen type II, collagen type I and YKL40 expression levels in cartilage during early experimental osteoarthritis occurs independent of joint location and histological grading 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2004;7(1):R156-R165.
While morphologic and biochemical aspects of degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis [OA]) have been elucidated by numerous studies, the molecular mechanisms underlying the progressive loss of articular cartilage during OA development remain largely unknown. The main focus of the present study was to gain more insight into molecular changes during the very early stages of mechanically induced cartilage degeneration and to relate molecular alterations to histological changes at distinct localizations of the joint. Studies on human articular cartilage are hampered by the difficulty of obtaining normal tissue and early-stage OA tissue, and they allow no progressive follow-up. An experimental OA model in dogs with a slow natural history of OA (Pond–Nuki model) was therefore chosen. Anterior cruciate ligament transection (ACLT) was performed on 24 skeletally mature dogs to induce joint instability resulting in OA. Samples were taken from different joint areas after 6, 12, 24 and 48 weeks, and gene expression levels of common cartilage molecules were quantified in relation to the histological grading (modified Mankin score) of adjacent tissue. Histological changes reflected early progressive degenerative OA. Soon after ACLT, chondrocytes responded to the altered mechanical conditions by significant and stable elevation of collagen type II, collagen type I and YKL40 expression, which persisted throughout the study. In contrast to the mild to moderate histological alterations, these molecular changes were not progressive and were independent of the joint localization (tibia, femur, lateral, medial) and the extent of matrix degeneration. MMP13 remained unaltered until 24 weeks, and aggrecan and tenascinC remained unaltered until 48 weeks after ACLT. These findings indicate that elevated collagen type II, collagen type I and YKL40 mRNA expression levels are early and sensitive measures of ACLT-induced joint instability independent of a certain grade of morphological cartilage degeneration. A second phase of molecular changes in OA may begin around 48 weeks after ACLT with altered expression of further genes, such as MMP13, aggrecan and tenascin. Molecular changes observed in the present study suggest that dog cartilage responds to degenerative conditions by regulating the same genes in a similar direction as that observed for chondrocytes in late human OA.
PMCID: PMC1064896  PMID: 15642136
ACLT; cartilage; gene expression; histology; osteoarthritis

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