Craft AM, Ahmed N, Rockel JS, Baht GS, Alman BA, Kandel RA, Grigoriadis AE, Keller GM. 2013. Specification of chondrocytes and cartilage tissues from embryonic stem cells. Development (Cambridge, England). 140(12):2597-610. Pubmed: 23715552 DOI:10.1242/dev.087890


Osteoarthritis primarily affects the articular cartilage of synovial joints. Cell and/or cartilage replacement is a promising therapy, provided there is access to appropriate tissue and sufficient numbers of articular chondrocytes. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) represent a potentially unlimited source of chondrocytes and tissues as they can generate a broad spectrum of cell types under appropriate conditions in vitro. Here, we demonstrate that mouse ESC-derived chondrogenic mesoderm arises from a Flk-1(-)/Pdgfrα(+) (F(-)P(+)) population that emerges in a defined temporal pattern following the development of an early cardiogenic F(-)P(+) population. Specification of the late-arising F(-)P(+) population with BMP4 generated a highly enriched population of chondrocytes expressing genes associated with growth plate hypertrophic chondrocytes. By contrast, specification with Gdf5, together with inhibition of hedgehog and BMP signaling pathways, generated a population of non-hypertrophic chondrocytes that displayed properties of articular chondrocytes. The two chondrocyte populations retained their hypertrophic and non-hypertrophic properties when induced to generate spatially organized proteoglycan-rich cartilage-like tissue in vitro. Transplantation of either type of chondrocyte, or tissue generated from them, into immunodeficient recipients resulted in the development of cartilage tissue and bone within an 8-week period. Significant ossification was not observed when the tissue was transplanted into osteoblast-depleted mice or into diffusion chambers that prevent vascularization. Thus, through stage-specific manipulation of appropriate signaling pathways it is possible to efficiently and reproducibly derive hypertrophic and non-hypertrophic chondrocyte populations from mouse ESCs that are able to generate distinct cartilage-like tissue in vitro and maintain a cartilage tissue phenotype within an avascular and/or osteoblast-free niche in vivo.

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April Craft studies the development of cartilage and other synovial joint tissues, with hopes of applying this knowledge toward the development of therapeutics for disease attenuation and tissue regeneration and repair.

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