Changes in phenotype and differentiation potential of human mesenchymal stem cells aging in vitro

Yueh Hsun Kevin Yang, Courtney R. Ogando, Carmine Wang See, Tsui Yun Chang, Gilda A. Barabino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Background: Adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) hold great promise for regenerative medicine because of their self-renewal, multipotency, and trophic and immunosuppressive effects. Due to the rareness and high heterogeneity of freshly isolated MSCs, extensive in-vitro passage is required to expand their populations prior to clinical use; however, senescence usually accompanies and can potentially affect MSC characteristics and functionality. Therefore, a thorough characterization of the variations in phenotype and differentiation potential of in-vitro aging MSCs must be sought. Methods: Human bone marrow-derived MSCs were passaged in vitro and cultivated with either DMEM-based or αMEM-based expansion media. Cells were prepared for subculture every 10 days up to passage 8 and were analyzed for cell morphology, proliferative capacity, and surface marker expression at the end of each passage. The gene expression profile and adipogenic and osteogenic differentiation capability of MSCs at early (passage 4) and late (passage 8) passages were also evaluated. Results: In-vitro aging MSCs gradually lost the typical fibroblast-like spindle shape, leading to elevated morphological abnormality and inhomogeneity. While the DMEM-based expansion medium better facilitated MSC proliferation in the early passages, the cell population doubling rate reduced over time in both DMEM and αMEM groups. CD146 expression decreased with increasing passage number only when MSCs were cultured under the DMEM-based condition. Senescence also resulted in MSCs with genetic instability, which was further regulated by the medium recipe. Regardless of the expansion condition, MSCs at both passages 4 and 8 could differentiate into adipocyte-like cells whereas osteogenesis of aged MSCs was significantly compromised. For osteogenic induction, use of the αMEM-based expansion medium yielded longer osteogenesis and better quality. Conclusions: Human MSCs subjected to extensive in-vitro passage can undergo morphological, phenotypic, and genetic changes. These properties are also modulated by the medium composition employed to expand the cell populations. In addition, adipogenic potential may be better preserved over osteogenesis in aged MSCs, suggesting that MSCs at early passages must be used for osteogenic differentiation. The current study presents valuable information for future basic science research and clinical applications leading to the development of novel MSC-based therapeutic strategies for different diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number131
JournalStem Cell Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 11 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Adipogenesis
  • Aging
  • CD106
  • CD146
  • Differentiation
  • Gene expression
  • Human mesenchymal stem cell
  • Morphology
  • Osteogenesis
  • Proliferation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Cell Biology


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