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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Characterization of adipocyte differentiation from human mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow

Shu-Wen Qian1, Xi Li12, You-You Zhang1, Hai-Yan Huang12, Yuan Liu1, Xia Sun1 and Qi-Qun Tang12*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine, Institutes of Biomedical Sciences, Fudan University, Shanghai 200032, PR China

2 The Key Laboratory of Molecular Medicine, the Ministry of Education, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Shanghai Medical College, Fudan University, Shanghai 200032, PR China

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BMC Developmental Biology 2010, 10:47  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-10-47

Published: 7 May 2010



Adipocyte hyperplasia is associated with obesity and arises due to adipogenic differentiation of resident multipotent stem cells in the vascular stroma of adipose tissue and remote stem cells of other organs. The mechanistic characterization of adipocyte differentiation has been researched in murine pre-adipocyte models (i.e. 3T3-L1 and 3T3-F442A), revealing that growth-arrest pre-adipocytes undergo mitotic clonal expansion and that regulation of the differentiation process relies on the sequential expression of three key transcription factors (C/EBPβ, C/EBPα and PPARγ). However, the mechanisms underlying adipocyte differentiation from multipotent stem cells, particularly human mesenchymal stem cells (hBMSCs), remain poorly understood. This study investigated cell cycle regulation and the roles of C/EBPβ, C/EBPα and PPARγ during adipocyte differentiation from hBMSCs.


Utilising a BrdU incorporation assay and manual cell counting it was demonstrated that induction of adipocyte differentiation in culture resulted in 3T3-L1 pre-adipocytes but not hBMSCs undergoing mitotic clonal expansion. Knock-down and over-expression assays revealed that C/EBPβ, C/EBPα and PPARγ were required for adipocyte differentiation from hBMSCs. C/EBPβ and C/EBPα individually induced adipocyte differentiation in the presence of inducers; PPARγ alone initiated adipocyte differentiation but the cells failed to differentiate fully. Therefore, the roles of these transcription factors during human adipocyte differentiation are different from their respective roles in mouse.


The characteristics of hBMSCs during adipogenic differentiation are different from those of murine cells. These findings could be important in elucidating the mechanisms underlying human obesity further.