Responses to altered oxygen tension are distinct between human stem cells of high and low chondrogenic capacity

Devon E. Anderson, Brandon D. Markway, Derek Bond, Helen E. McCarthy, Brian Johnstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Background: Lowering oxygen from atmospheric level (hyperoxia) to the physiological level (physioxia) of articular cartilage promotes mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) chondrogenesis. However, the literature is equivocal regarding the benefits of physioxic culture on preventing hypertrophy of MSC-derived chondrocytes. Articular cartilage progenitors (ACPs) undergo chondrogenic differentiation with reduced hypertrophy marker expression in hyperoxia but have not been studied in physioxia. This study sought to delineate the effects of physioxic culture on both cell types undergoing chondrogenesis. Methods: MSCs were isolated from human bone marrow aspirates and ACP clones were isolated from healthy human cartilage. Cells were differentiated in pellet culture in physioxia (2 % oxygen) or hyperoxia (20 % oxygen) over 14 days. Chondrogenesis was characterized by biochemical assays and gene and protein expression analysis. Results: MSC preparations and ACP clones of high intrinsic chondrogenicity (termed high-GAG) produced abundant matrix in hyperoxia and physioxia. Poorly chondrogenic cells (low-GAG) demonstrated a significant fold-change matrix increase in physioxia. Both high-GAG and low-GAG groups of MSCs and ACPs significantly upregulated chondrogenic genes; however, only high-GAG groups had a concomitant decrease in hypertrophy-related genes. High-GAG MSCs upregulated many common hypoxia-responsive genes in physioxia while low-GAG cells downregulated most of these genes. In physioxia, high-GAG MSCs and ACPs produced comparable type II collagen but less type I collagen than those in hyperoxia. Type X collagen was detectable in some ACP pellets in hyperoxia but reduced or absent in physioxia. In contrast, type X collagen was detectable in all MSC preparations in hyperoxia and physioxia. Conclusions: MSC preparations and ACP clones had a wide range of chondrogenicity between donors. Physioxia significantly enhanced the chondrogenic potential of both ACPs and MSCs compared with hyperoxia, but the magnitude of response was inversely related to intrinsic chondrogenic potential. Discrepancies in the literature regarding MSC hypertrophy in physioxia can be explained by the use of low numbers of preparations of variable chondrogenicity. Physioxic differentiation of MSC preparations of high chondrogenicity significantly decreased hypertrophy-related genes but still produced type X collagen protein. Highly chondrogenic ACP clones had significantly lower hypertrophic gene levels, and there was little to no type X collagen protein in physioxia, emphasizing the potential advantage of these cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number154
JournalStem Cell Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 20 2016


  • Articular cartilage progenitor cell
  • Chondrogenesis
  • Hypertrophy
  • Hypoxia
  • Mesenchymal stem cell
  • Pellet culture
  • Physioxia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Cell Biology


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