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Open Access Research article

Differential properties of human ACL and MCL stem cells may be responsible for their differential healing capacity

Jianying Zhang1, Tiffany Pan1, Hee-Jeong Im2, Freddie H Fu1 and James HC Wang1*

Author Affiliations

1 MechanoBiology Laboratory, Departments of Orthopedic Surgery and Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA

2 Departments of Biochemistry and Internal Medicine, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL 60612, USA

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BMC Medicine 2011, 9:68  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-68

Published: 2 June 2011

Abstract

Background

The human anterior cruciate ligament (hACL) and medial collateral ligament (hMCL) of the knee joint are frequently injured, especially in athletic settings. It has been known that, while injuries to the MCL typically heal with conservative treatment, ACL injuries usually do not heal. As adult stem cells repair injured tissues through proliferation and differentiation, we hypothesized that the hACL and hMCL contain stem cells exhibiting unique properties that could be responsible for the differential healing capacity of the two ligaments.

Methods

To test the above hypothesis, we derived ligament stem cells from normal hACL and hMCL samples from the same adult donors using tissue culture techniques and characterized their properties using immunocytochemistry, RT-PCR, and flow cytometry.

Results

We found that both hACL stem cells (hACL-SCs) and hMCL stem cells (hMCL-SCs) formed colonies in culture and expressed stem cell markers nucleostemin and stage-specific embryonic antigen-4 (SSEA-4). Moreover, both hACL-SCs and hMCL-SCs expressed CD surface markers for mesenchymal stem cells, including CD44 and CD90, but not those markers for vascular cells, CD31, CD34, CD45, and CD146. However, hACL-SCs differed from hMCL-SCs in that the size and number of hACL-SC colonies in culture were much smaller and grew more slowly than hMCL-SC colonies. Moreover, fewer hACL-SCs in cell colonies expressed stem cell markers STRO-1 and octamer-binding transcription factor-4 (Oct-4) than hMCL-SCs. Finally, hACL-SCs had less multi-differentiation potential than hMCL-SCs, evidenced by differing extents of adipogenesis, chondrogenesis, and osteogenesis in the respective induction media.

Conclusions

This study shows for the first time that hACL-SCs are intrinsically different from hMCL-SCs. We suggest that the differences in their properties contribute to the known disparity in healing capabilities between the two ligaments.