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Open Access Research article

Nestin expression in mesenchymal stromal cells: regulation by hypoxia and osteogenesis

Alice Wong*, Ehssan Ghassemi and Clare E Yellowley

Author Affiliations

Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Cell Biology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California Davis, Davis 95616, CA, USA

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BMC Veterinary Research 2014, 10:173  doi:10.1186/s12917-014-0173-z

Published: 5 August 2014



The intermediate filament protein nestin is used as a marker for neural stem cells, and its expression is inversely correlated with cellular differentiation. More recently, nestin expression has also been described in other cell types including multipotential mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). In this study, we examined the expression of nestin in equine, canine and human bone marrow-derived MSCs undergoing osteogenic differentiation, to determine whether nestin levels were attenuated as the cells acquired a more mature phenotype. In addition, the expression of nestin may be under the influence of cellular hypoxia, as nestin expression is known to increase in areas of ischemic tissue damage. Therefore, we also examined the effects of hypoxia on expression of nestin in human MSCs and examined a role for hypoxia inducible factor 1-alpha (HIF-1α) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the response. Additionally, we quantified the temporal expression of nestin in the fracture callus during bone regeneration, a site that has been characterized as hypoxic.


There were no significant changes in nestin expression in MSCs during osteogenic differentiation. There was a significant increase in expression of nestin mRNA and protein in human MSCs in response to hypoxia (1% O2) or the chemical hypoxia mimetic desferroxamine. This may be due to upregulation of VEGF under hypoxia, as treatment of cells with the VEGF receptor antagonist CPO-P11 attenuated hypoxia-induced nestin expression. A significant increase in nestin mRNA expression was observed in the fracture callus of mice three and seven days post fracture.


Nestin was not a selective marker for MSCs, as its expression was maintained during osteogenic differentiation, in all species examined. Furthermore our data suggest that nestin expression can be induced by hypoxia, and that this increase in nestin is partially regulated by HIF-1α and VEGF. Interestingly, nestin levels were significantly upregulated at the fracture site. Further studies are required to understand the role of nestin in bone cell biology and ultimately bone regeneration.

Nestin; Mesenchymal stromal cells; Canine; Equine; Human; Fracture callus; Osteogenesis; VEGF