Objectives:  Mesenchymal stem cells have great potential for tissue regeneration, and these cells can be harvested from a variety of tissues; however, up to now it has not been clear whether stem cells could be isolated from cruciate ligaments of the knee joint. The aim of our study was to isolate and characterize stem cells from both anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments (ACL and PCL) of humans.

Materials and methods:  Cruciate igaments were obtained from patients receiving total knee arthroplasty for advanced osteoarthritis and plastic-adherent cells were serially passaged. In vitro chondrogenic, osteogenic and adipogenic abilities of the cells were evaluated by reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction and histological study. Karyotyping and surface immunophenotyping of the cells were performed.

Results:  It was found that a population of ligament-derived cells could be expanded and subcultured extensively. These cells were able to differentiate into osteoblasts, chondrocytes and adipocytes under appropriate inductions. Their phenotypic characteristics were similar to those of bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells. Karyotyping was normal after serial passage.

Conclusions:  In summary, our study demonstrates that human multipotent stem cells can be isolated and expanded from human ACL and PCL, which are easily obtained from patients following total knee or cruciate ligament reconstructive surgery. Self-renewal and mesodermal differentiation potential of these cells make them a viable alternative source for use in regenerative medicine.