Our knowledge of cellular differentiation processes during chondro- and osteogenesis, in particular the complex interaction of differentiation factors, is still limited. We used the model system of embryonic stem (ES) cell differentiation in vitro via cellular aggregates, so called embryoid bodies (EBs), to analyze chondrogenic and osteogenic differentiation. ES cells differentiated into chondrocytes and osteocytes throughout a series of developmental stages resembling cellular differentiation events during skeletal development in vivo. A lineage from pluripotent ES cells via mesenchymal, prechondrogenic cells, chondrocytes and hypertrophic chondrocytes up to osteogenic cells was characterized. Furthermore, we found evidence for another osteogenic lineage, bypassing the chondrogenic stage. Together our results suggest that this in vitro system will be helpful to answer so far unacknowledged questions regarding chondrogenic and osteogenic differentiation. For example, we isolated an as yet unknown cDNA fragment from ES cell-derived chondrocytes, which showed a developmentally regulated expression pattern during EB differentiation. Considering ES cell differentiation as an alternative approach for cellular therapy, we used two different methods to obtain pure chondrocyte cultures from the heterogenous EBs. First, members of the transforming growth factor (TGF)-β family were applied and found to modulate chondrogenic differentiation but were not effective enough to produce sufficient amounts of chondrocytes. Second, chondrocytes were isolated from EBs by micro-manipulation. These cells initially showed dedifferentiation into fiboblastoid cells in culture, but later redifferentiated into mature chondrocytes. However, a small amount of chondrocytes isolated from EBs trans differentiated into other mesenchymal cell types, indicating that chondrocytes derived from ES cells posses a distinct differentiation plasticity.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)