Regulation of BMP-Induced Transcription in Cultured Human Bone Marrow Stromal Cells
David L. Diefenderfer, VMD, PhD; Anna M. Osyczka, PhD; Jonathan P. Garino, MD; Phoebe S. Leboy, PhD


Background: Adherent bone marrow stromal cells are inducible osteoprogenitors, giving rise to cells expressing osteoblast markers including alkaline phosphatase, osteopontin, osteocalcin, and bone sialoprotein. However, the potency of inducers varies in a species-specific manner. Glucocorticoids such as dexamethasone induce alkaline phosphatase activity in both human and rat mesenchymal stem cells, while mouse bone marrow stromal cells are refractory to dexamethasone-induced alkaline phosphatase activity. In contrast, BMP induces alkaline phosphatase activity in both mouse and rat bone marrow stromal cells, while BMP effects on human bone marrow stromal cells are poorly characterized.

Methods: Bone marrow samples were isolated from patients undergoing hip replacement. Mononuclear marrow cells were cultured and grown to confluence without or with 10 -7 M dexamethasone. Cells from each isolate were passaged into medium containing 100 μg/mL ascorbate phosphate and treated with dexamethasone, 100 ng/mL BMP, or no inducer. At day 6, alkaline phosphatase activity was assayed, and RNA was prepared for mRNA analyses by real-time polymerase chain reaction.

Results: Bone marrow stromal cells from twenty-four of twenty-six patients showed no significant osteogenic response to BMP-2, 4, or 7 as determined by alkaline phosphatase induction. However, BMPs induced elevated levels of other genes associated with osteogenesis such as bone sialoprotein and osteopontin as well as BMP-2 and noggin. If primary cultures of human bone marrow stromal cells were pretreated with dexamethasone, BMP-2 treatment of first-passage cells induced alkaline phosphatase in approximately half of the isolates, and significantly greater induction was seen in cells from males. Dexamethasone treatment, like BMP treatment, also increased expression of the BMP-binding protein noggin.

Conclusions: Most human femur bone marrow stromal cell samples appear incapable of expressing elevated alkaline phosphatase levels in response to BMPs. Since BMP treatment induced expression of several other BMP-regulated genes, the defect in alkaline phosphatase induction is presumably not due to impaired BMP signaling. We hypothesize that the mechanism by which BMPs modulate alkaline phosphatase expression is indirect, involving a BMP-regulated transcription factor for alkaline phosphatase expression that is controlled differently in humans and rodents.

Clinical Relevance: We suggest that the relative insensitivity of alkaline phosphatase to BMP induction in human bone marrow stromal cells may contribute to the variation in efficacy reported with BMP in clinical settings.


  • In support of their research or preparation of this manuscript, one or more of the authors received grant DE13962 from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research/National Institutes of Health. None of the authors received payments or other benefits or a commitment or agreement to provide such benefits from a commercial entity. No commercial entity paid or directed, or agreed to pay or direct, any benefits to any research fund, foundation, educational institution, or other charitable or nonprofit organization with which the authors are affiliated or associated. Genetics Institute (Wyeth Labs) supplied the human rBMPs, and Regeneron provided the rat anti-human noggin antibody.

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