Theses Doctoral

Regulation of Chondrogenesis in Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells by Cartilage Extracellular Matrix and Therapeutic Applications

Li, Ang

Cartilage has limited intrinsic healing potential upon injury, due to the low cell density and the lack of blood supply. Degenerative disease of the cartilage, such as osteoarthritis (OA), is challenging to treat without clear mechanistic understandings of cartilage development. With over 90% of the cartilage tissue occupied by extracellular matrix (ECM), understanding the cellular and molecular effects of cartilage ECM on chondrogenesis and chondrocyte behavior is crucial for therapeutic development. The focus of this work is to study the regulation of chondrogenesis and hypertrophic maturation of human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) by cartilage ECM in the context of potential therapeutic applications.
To study the cartilage ECM, we created a decellularized ECM digest from native porcine cartilage and examined its effects on MSCs. Since native cartilage ECM maintains chondrocyte homeostasis without progressing to hypertrophic degeneration, we hypothesized that the decellularized ECM would promote MSC chondrogenesis and inhibit hypertrophy. Indeed, we showed that ECM promoted MSC chondrogenesis and matrix production, and inhibited hypertrophy and endochondral ossification. The chondrogenic effect was shown to potentially involve the PI3K-Akt-Foxo1 and Hif1 pathways. By recapitulating the activated Hif1 pathway, roxadustat, a small molecule stabilizer of Hif, was able to reproduce the chondrogenic and anti-hypertrophic effects of the cartilage ECM. It also reduced the expression of matrix metalloproteases (MMPs) in MSCs, healthy chondrocytes, and OA chondrocytes, and alleviated matrix degradation in bovine cartilage explants.
We also attempted to identify ECM components that display chondrogenic properties. Collagen XI, a minor component of articular cartilage, was shown to promote cartilage matrix formation in MSCs and healthy chondrocytes, and to reduce matrix degradation in bovine cartilage explants.
Taken together, this study reveals the dual roles of cartilage ECM in promoting chondrogenesis and matrix production and inhibiting cartilage hypertrophy. Importantly, small molecule drugs that recapitulate the signaling pathways of ECM regulation, and collagen XI, a component of the ECM, may serve as leads for further therapeutic development for cartilage injury and degenerative disease.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Vunjak-Novakovic, Gordana
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 13, 2018