The precise biological characteristics of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs), including growth regulatory mechanisms, have not yet been defined. Using 29 strains of hMSCs isolated from bone marrow, we have performed extensive analyses of the growth profiles of hMSCs in vitro. All 29 strains stopped proliferating with a mean population doubling (PD) of 28, although there was a considerable difference among strains. The mean telomere restriction fragment length of the cells passaged twice correlated well with the final number of PDs in each strain, suggesting the value of this measurement to be predictive of the growth potential of hMSCs. The expression level of the p16INK4A gene was associated closely with the PD number of each strain (p = .00000001). Most of the p16INK4A-positive cells were Ki67-negative and senescence associated β-galactosidase-positive, and the suppression of p16INK4A gene expression by small interfering RNA in senescent hMSCs reduced the number of senescent cells and endowed them with the ability to proliferate. Twenty-five of the 29 strains showed a steady gradual increase in the expression of p16INK4A. The remaining four strains (13.8%) showed different profiles, in which DNA methylation in the promoter region occurred in vitro. One of the four strains continued to proliferate for much longer than the others and showed chromosomal aberrations in the later stages. These results indicated p16INK4A to be a key factor in the regulation of hMSC growth, and, most importantly, careful monitoring of DNA methylation should be considered during the culture of hMSCs, particularly when a prolonged and extended propagation is required.
Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is found at the end of this article.