Mesenchymal progenitor cells (MPCs) can differentiate into osteoblasts, adipocytes, and chondrocytes, and are in part responsible for maintaining tissue integrity. Recently, a progenitor cell population has been found within the synovial fluid that shares many similarities with bone marrow MPCs. These synovial fluid MPCs (sfMPCs) share the ability to differentiate into bone and fat, with a bias for cartilage differentiation. In this study, sfMPCs were isolated from human and canine synovial fluid collected from normal individuals and those with osteoarthritis (human: clinician-diagnosed, canine: experimental) to compare the differentiation potential of CD90+ vs. CD90− sfMPCs, and to determine if CD90 (Thy-1) is a predictive marker of synovial fluid progenitors with chondrogenic capacity
sfMPCs were derived from synovial fluid from normal and OA knee joints. These cells were induced to differentiate into chondrocytes and analyzed using quantitative PCR, immunofluorescence, and electron microscopy.
The CD90+ subpopulation of sfMPCs had increased chondrogenic potential compared to the CD90− population. Furthermore, sfMPCs derived from healthy joints did not require a micro-mass step for efficient chondrogenesis. Whereas sfMPCs from OA synovial fluid retain the ability to undergo chondrogenic differentiation, they require micro-mass culture conditions.
Overall, this study has demonstrated an increased chondrogenic potential within the CD90+ fraction of human and canine sfMPCs and that this population of cells derived from healthy normal joints do not require a micro-mass step for efficient chondrogenesis, while sfMPCs obtained from OA knee joints do not differentiate efficiently into chondrocytes without the micro-mass procedure. These results reveal a fundamental shift in the chondrogenic ability of cells isolated from arthritic joint fluids, and we speculate that the mechanism behind this change of cell behavior is exposure to the altered milieu of the OA joint fluid, which will be examined in further studies.