Mesenchymal stem cells are injured by complement after their contact with serum

Yan Li, Feng Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Despite the potent immunosuppressive activity that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) display in vitro, recent clinical trial results are disappointing, suggesting that MSC viability and/or function are greatly reduced after infusion. In this report, we demonstrated that human MSCs activated complement of the innate immunity after their contact with serum. Although all 3 known intrinsic cell-surface complement regulators were present on MSCs, activated complement overwhelmed the protection of these regulators and resulted in MSCs cytotoxicity and dysfunction. In addition, autologous MSCs suffered less cellular injury than allogeneic MSCs after contacting serum. All 3 complement activation pathways were involved in generating the membrane attack complex to directly injure MSCs. Supplementing an exogenous complement inhibitor, or up-regulating MSC expression levels of CD55, one of the cell-surface complement regulators, helped to reduce the serum-induced MSC cytotoxicity. Finally, adoptively transferred MSCs in complement deficient mice or complement-depleted mice showed reduced cellular injury in vivo compared with those in wild type mice. These results indicate that complement is integrally involved in recognizing and injuring MSCs after their infusion, suggesting that autologous MSCs may have advantages over allogeneic MSCs, and that inhibiting complement activation could be a novel strategy to improve existing MSC-based therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3436-3443
Number of pages8
Issue number17
StatePublished - Oct 25 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Immunology
  • Hematology
  • Cell Biology


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