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Open Badges Commentary

Implications of long-term culture for mesenchymal stem cells: genetic defects or epigenetic regulation?

Wolfgang Wagner

Author Affiliations

Helmholtz-Institute for Biomedical Technology, Stem Cell Biology and Cellular Engineering, RWTH Aachen University Medical School, Pauwelsstrasse 20, 52074 Aachen, Germany

Stem Cell Research & Therapy 2012, 3:54  doi:10.1186/scrt145

See related research by Redaelli et al.,

Published: 20 December 2012


Mesenchymal stem cells change dramatically during culture expansion. Long-term culture has been suspected to evoke oncogenic transformation: overall, the genome appears to be relatively stable throughout culture but transient clonal aneuploidies have been observed. Oncogenic transformation does not necessarily entail growth advantage in vitro and, therefore, the available methods - such as karyotypic analysis or genomic profiling - cannot exclude this risk. On the other hand, long-term culture is associated with specific senescence-associated DNA methylation (SA-DNAm) changes, particularly in developmental genes. SA-DNAm changes are highly reproducible and can be used to monitor the state of senescence for quality control. Notably, neither telomere attrition nor SA-DNAm changes occur in pluripotent stem cells, which can evade the 'Hayflick limit'. Long-term culture of mesenchymal stem cells seems to involve a tightly regulated epigenetic program. These epigenetic modifications may counteract dominant clones, which are more prone to transformation.