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The news that adult stem cells can generate bone is more than exciting to bone researchers. Finding new ways to repair and regenerate bones is a holy grail that most people would love to see come true. But the biologic significance of these newly discovered mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) is something that scientists aren’t quite sure about. They don’t quite know if they can just adopt the role of a bone cell, or if there is some “boot camp” they go through to become bone cells. So, to figure this out, researchers from the University of Chicago decided to analyze the behavior of the newly discovered MSCs, which were named MSC-derived osteoblasts (MSC-OBS). The researchers started by using genetic lineage-tracing techniques to follow the biological fate of MSC-OBS in mice. Their results revealed that the newly discovered MSC-OBS are active in regulating bone formation by producing a protein called BMP4. By treating mice with a chemical inhibitor of BMP4, the researchers saw that MSC-OBS are essential for the formation of bones. Interestingly, BMP4 is a known promoter of chondrogenesis. According to the researchers, this might indicate that the newly discovered MSC-OBS can be better classified as chondroblasts, a specialized cell type of the cartilage that can differentiate into bone. Now, what makes these findings so important is the potential of using these cells for treatments related to bone repair and regeneration. First off, the findings indicate that MSC-OBS are a subset of the bone marrow stem cells. This means that researchers could eventually use MSC-OBS to create new bone in vitro. This might not be a magic bullet for bone regeneration, as the researchers themselves explain: “We cannot, however, predict if MSC-OBS will be sufficient to promote bone regeneration when transplanted in vivo.” Nonetheless, this study reveals an important contribution of MSC-OBS to the biology of bone. More information: S.R. Snider et al. Mesenchymal stem cell-derived osteoblasts contribute to adult bone formation by BMP4, Molecular Biology of the Cell (2018). S.R. Snider et al. Mesenchymal stem cell-derived osteoblasts contribute to adult bone formation by BMP4,(




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