Muscle-Derived Stem Cells And Platelet-Rich Plasma Improve Cartilage Formation


Skeletal muscle contains a stem cell population called muscle derived stem cells or MDSCs that might have tremendous therapeutic potential. MDSCs have been isolated from skeletal muscle by means of their ability to adhere to culture flasks coated with collagen. Samples of muscle taken from a biopsy are mechanically mashed and then treated with enzymes the separate the cells. These cells are plated onto collagen-coated dishes and the cells either adhere quickly (fibroblasts and myoblasts), or slowly (MDSC-enriched fraction).

Skeletal muscle contains another cell population known as satellite cells. Satellite cells can divide and form muscle progenitor cells known as myoblasts that fuse to form myotubes. MDSCs, however, as distinct from satellite cells. They express different sets of genes: satellite cells typically express Pax7, whereas MDSCs are more heterogeneous but express Sca-1 consistently and often express CD34.

Studies in culture and in living animals have established that MDSCs can self-renew and differentiate into multiple lineages. They also have the potential to regenerate various adult tissues. See Usas A, et al Medicina (Kaunas) 2011;47:469–479; Cao B, et al Nat Cell Biol. 2003;5:640–646; Deasy BM, et al Blood Cells Mol Dis. 2001;27:924–933.

MDSCs also display a superior regenerative capacity relative to satellite cells following transplantation into mice with a form of rodent muscular dystrophy (mdx mice). MDSCs are at least partially invisible to the immune system. When transplanted into mdx mice and left for at least 3 months, no sign of immune rejection was detected.

The laboratory of Johnny Huard at the University of Pittsburgh has been genetically engineering MDSCs from mouse for use as cartilage making cells to treat rodents with osteoarthritis. In 2009, Huard’s group published an intriguing paper in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism in which they genetically engineered MDSCs with two genes: Bone Morphogenetic Protein 4 (BMP-4) and Soluble Flt-1. If you are wondering what the heck these two genes encode, then you are not alone. BMP-4 is a secreted signaling protein that is very important for bone healing, but it also plays a central role in helping cartilage-making cells (chondrocytes) survive and divide. Flt-1 is one of the receptor proteins that binds the growth factor VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor).  Normally, VEGF forms blood vessels and remodels existing blood vessels.  However, when it comes to cartilage, VEGF tends to cause cartilage to die back.  Therefore, Huard’s group used a soluble version of Flt-1, which scavenged the available VEGF in the environment and bound it up.

In their 2009 paper, Huard and others showed that BMP-4/soluble Flt-1-expressing MDSCs did a remarkable job of making new cartilage and repairing damage joint cartilage in rodents.  See Tomoyuki Matsumoto, et al ARTHRITIS & RHEUMATISM Vol. 60, No. 5, May 2009, pp 1390–1405.

A and B, Macroscopic (A) and histologic (B) evaluation of representative joints from rats injected with muscle-derived stem cells (MDSCs) transduced with soluble Flt-1 (sFlt-1) and bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP-4 [B4]) (sFlt-1/BMP-4–MDSC), MDSCs transduced with vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and BMP-4 (VEGF/BMP-4–MDSC), MDSCs transduced with BMP-4 alone (BMP-4–MDSC), nontransduced MDSCs (MDSC), or phosphate buffered saline (PBS) alone, 4 and 12 weeks after transplantation. Four weeks after transplantation, the sFlt-1/BMP-4–MDSC and BMP-4–MDSC groups macroscopically and histologically showed smooth joint surface with well-repaired articular cartilage and Safranin O–positive hyaline-like cartilage (red staining in B). However, the other groups showed marked arthritic progression, synovial hypertrophy, and osteophyte formation (arrows). Twelve weeks after transplantation, although the sFlt-1/BMP-4–MDSC group still showed well-repaired articular cartilage, the other groups exhibited more severe arthritis compared with 4 weeks. (Original magnification  100.) C, Semiquantitative histologic scores for all groups, 4 and 12 weeks following transplantation. The sFlt-1/BMP-4–MDSC group had the lowest (best) scores of all groups. Bars show the mean and SEM.   P   0.05 versus all other groups;   P   0.05 versus the VEGF/BMP-4–MDSC, MDSC, and PBS groups.
A and B, Macroscopic (A) and histologic (B) evaluation of representative joints from rats injected with muscle-derived stem cells (MDSCs) transduced with soluble Flt-1 (sFlt-1) and bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP-4 [B4]) (sFlt-1/BMP-4–MDSC), MDSCs transduced with vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and BMP-4 (VEGF/BMP-4–MDSC), MDSCs transduced with BMP-4 alone (BMP-4–MDSC), nontransduced MDSCs (MDSC), or phosphate buffered saline (PBS) alone, 4 and 12 weeks after transplantation. Four weeks after transplantation, the sFlt-1/BMP-4–MDSC and BMP-4–MDSC groups macroscopically and histologically showed smooth joint surface with well-repaired articular cartilage and Safranin O–positive hyaline-like cartilage (red staining in B). However, the other groups showed marked arthritic progression, synovial hypertrophy, and osteophyte formation (arrows). Twelve weeks after transplantation, although the sFlt-1/BMP-4–MDSC group still showed well-repaired articular cartilage, the other groups exhibited more severe arthritis compared with 4 weeks. (Original magnification  100.) C, Semiquantitative histologic scores for all groups, 4 and 12 weeks following transplantation. The sFlt-1/BMP-4–MDSC group had the lowest (best) scores of all groups. Bars show the mean and SEM.   =P<0.05 versus all other groups;  =P<0.05 versus the VEGF/BMP-4–MDSC, MDSC, and PBS groups.
In another paper that came out in January of this year, Huard has used platelet-rich plasma with his engineered MDSCs to determine with platelet-rich plasma (PRP) can increase the cartilage-making activity of engineered MDSCs.

Since PRP has been reported to promote the synthesis of collagen and cell proliferation, and increase cartilage repair, it is possible that, when paired with the right stem cells, PRP can enhance cartilage repair.  To test this suspicion, MDSCs expressing BMP-4 and sFlt1 were mixed with PRP and injected into the knees of rats whose immune system did not work properly that had osteoarthritis.  Osteoarthritis can be chemically induced in rats rather easily, and the rats were treated with MDSCs expressing BMP-4 and sFlt1 or MDSCs expressing BMP-4 and sFlt1 plus PRP.  Tissue assessments of the arthritic joints were performed 4 and 12 weeks after cell transplantation.  Other tests conducted in culture determined the cell proliferation, adhesion, migration and cartilage-making capacities of cells in culture.

The results showed that addition of PRP to MDSCs expressing BMP-4 and sFlt1 significantly improved joint cartilage repair at week 4 compared to MDSCs expressing BMP-4 and sFlt1 alone.  The joints showed higher numbers of cells producing type II collagen and lower levels of chondrocyte cell death were observed by MDSCs expressing BMP-4 and sFlt1 and mixed with PRP.  In culture, the addition of PRP promoted proliferation, adhesion and migration of the MDSCs.  When pellets of cells were induced to make cartilage in culture, PRP tended to increase the number of type II collagen producing cells.

From this, Huard and his colleagues concluded that PRP can promote the cartilage-repairing capacities of MDSCs that express BMP-4 and sFlt1.  This enhancement involves the promotion of collagen synthesis, the suppression of chondrocyte cell death, and by enhancing the integration of the transplanted cells in the repair process.

See Mifune Y, et al Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2013 Jan;21(1):175-85. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2012.09.018.

Platelet-Rich Plasma Enhances the Clinical Outcomes of Microfracture Surgery in Older Patients


Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that covers the opposing bones at a joint erodes away and the bare opposing bones smash into each other causing the bone to crack, fragment and chip. The result is extensive inflammation of the joint and further destruction of the bone, which prompts a knee replacement.

Because knee replacement surgeries are so painful and because they only last about two decades at the most, replacing the lost cartilage is a better option. One surgical treatment for osteoarthritis is microfracture surgery. Microfracture surgery involves the drilling of small holes in the tips of the bones of the joint to serve as conduits for stem cells in the bone to come to the surface and make cartilage.

Unfortunately, there are some problems with microfacture surgery, the most prominent of which is that it works better in younger patients than in older patients. Patients older than 40 years old show a precipitous drop in success after microfracture surgery. Thus, finding some way to increase the activity of cartilage production by endogenous stem cells would be a welcome finding for orthopedic surgeons.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) has been used to augment the cartilage-making activities of mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow. Therefore, some surgeons from South Korea decided to try adding PRP to the knees of patients who had just had microfracture surgery. They examined 49 patients with early arthritis. All of these patients were subjected to arthroscopic microfracture surgery for a cartilage lesion that was less than four cubic centimeters in size. These patients were all between the ages of forty to fifty years old, which means that they were outside the age range for successful microfracture surgery.

These 49 patients were randomly divided into two groups. The first group was a control group of 25 patients that only had arthroscopic microfracture surgery. The second group consisted of 24 patients and they had arthroscopic microfracture surgery and injections of PRP into the knee. 10 patients from each group had follow-up arthroscopies four to six months after the procedure to determine the extent of cartilage restoration. Further evaluations were also done 2 years after the procedure.

The results? There were significant improvements in clinical results between preoperative evaluation and postoperative at 2 years post surgery in both groups (p = 0.017). However in the group that received PRP injections plus microfracture surgery the results were significantly better than those of the control group. These patients had better range of motion and less pain (p = 0.012). In the 2nd look arthroscopies, the cartilage of the patients that received PRP and microfracture surgery was harder and showed increased elasticity than the cartilage of patients that received only microfracture surgery.

The conclusion of these authors: “The PRP injection with arthroscopic microfracture would be improved the results in early osteoarthritic knee with cartilage lesion in 40-50 years old, and the indication of this technique could be extended to 50 years.” (Lee GW et al., “Is platelet-rich plasma able to enhance the results of arthroscopic microfracture in early osteoarthritis and cartilage lesion over 40 years of age? European Journal of Orthopedic Surgery. 2012 Jul 5., epub ahead of publication)  If PRP could improve the outcomes of microfracture surgery, then maybe such a technique could extend the groups of patients who are successfully served by this procedure.

While this is an exciting result, we must temper our excitement with the realization that this is a small study and MRIs were not used to measure cartilage thickness. Therefore, while this study is useful and frankly, ingenious, it has its limitations.

Kobe Bryant’s Knee Treatment (Orthokine) Versus Platelet-Rich Plasma


Chris Centeno at his Regenexx blog has a really good article on the Orthokine knee treatment that Kobe Bryant traveled to Germany to receive. Because Dr. Centeno has done quite a few Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injections and has a fairly wide patient database to tap, his opinion should not be treated lightly.

In a word, the data in hand does not support the efficacy of the Orthokine treatment. The WOMAC Knee Function Study that was published in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage in 2008 showed that Orthokine was only slightly more effective than placebos.

Thus, it is expensive, and is only a little better than placebo treatments. PRP, on the other hand, is cheaper, you do not have to go to Germany for it, and has a much better chance of working. Therefore, if you want to try one of the two, Centeno strongly argues that you should pick the PRP treatment rather than the Orthokine treatment.

See Centeno’s excellent post here.