Osteogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells in defined protein beads



There is a need to develop improved methods for directing and maintaining the differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC) for regenerative medicine. Here, we present a method for embedding cells in defined protein microenvironments for the directed osteogenic differentiation of hMSC. Composite matrices of collagen I and agarose were produced by emulsification and simultaneous polymerization in the presence of hMSC to produce 30–150 μm diameter hydrogel “beads.” The proliferation, morphology, osteogenic gene expression, and calcium deposition of hMSC in bead environments were compared to other two- and three-dimensional culture environments over 14–21 days in culture. Cells embedded within 40% collagen beads exhibited equivalent proliferation rates to those in gel disks, but showed upregulation of bone sialoprotein and increased calcium deposition over 2D controls. Osteocalcin gene expression was not changed in 3D beads and disks, while collagen type I gene expression was downregulated relative to cells in 2D culture. The hydrogel bead format allows controlled cell differentiation and is a cell delivery vehicle that may also enhance vascular invasion and host incorporation. Our results indicate that the application of such beads can be used to promote the osteogenic phenotype in hMSC, which is an important step toward using them in bone repair applications. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part B: Appl Biomater, 2008