Discrepancy between the in vitro and in vivoeffects of murine mesenchymal stem cells on T-cell proliferation and collagen-induced arthritis
© Matthys et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010
Received: 19 November 2009
Accepted: 22 February 2010
Published: 22 February 2010
The goal of this study is to analyze the potential immunosuppressive properties of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) on T cell proliferation and in collagen-induced arthritis (CIA). An additional aim is to investigate the role of interferon-γ (IFN-γ) in these processes.
MSC were isolated from bone marrow of DBA/1 wild type and IFN-γ receptor knock-out (IFN-γR KO) mice and expanded in vitro. Proliferation of anti-CD3-stimulated CD4+ T cells in the presence or absence of MSC was evaluated by thymidine incorporation. CIA was induced in DBA/1 mice and animals were treated with MSC by intravenous or intraperitoneal injections of wild type or IFN-γR KO MSC.
Purity of enriched MSC cultures was evaluated by flow cytometry and their ability to differentiate into osteoblasts and adipocytes. In vitro, wild type MSC dose-dependently suppressed anti-CD3-induced T cell proliferation whereas IFN-γR KO MSC had a significantly lower inhibitory potential. A role for inducible nitric oxide (iNOS), programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), but not indoleamine 2,3-dioxigenase (IDO), in the T cell inhibition was demonstrated. In vivo, neither wild type nor IFN-γR KO MSC were able to reduce the severity of CIA or the humoral or cellular immune response toward collagen type II.
Whereas MSC inhibit anti-CD3-induced proliferation of T cells in vitro, an effect partially mediated by IFN-γ, MSC do not influence in vivo T cell proliferation nor the disease course of CIA. Thus there is a clear discrepancy between the in vitro and in vivo effects of MSC on T cell proliferation and CIA.
Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent progenitor cells that can differentiate into cells of the mesenchymal lineage like bone, fat, and cartilage . Due to these characteristics, they have been postulated as attractive candidates for cell-based tissue repair (for instance, to restore cartilage defects) [2, 3]. MSCs have therefore been suggested as an innovative therapeutic tool for rheumatic diseases . Besides their regenerative potential, MSCs have immunomodulatory properties by interaction with immunocompetent cells (reviewed in [5, 6]). MSCs inhibit proliferation of T cells in response to mitogenic stimuli  and anti-CD3 and anti-CD28 antibody stimulation [8, 9]. Multiple mechanisms have been proposed by which MSCs inhibit T-cell responses. Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), nitric oxide (NO), indoleamine 2,3-dioxigenase (IDO), and programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) (also known as B7-H1) are among the most often postulated molecules to be involved in inhibition of T-cell proliferation by MSCs [10–12]. Besides the involvement of soluble factors, induction of T-cell anergy has emerged as an alternative mechanism of T-cell inhibition . To suppress T-cell responses, MSCs first need to be activated by cytokines produced by activated T cells [14, 15], like interferon-gamma (IFN-γ). Although IFN-γ has traditionally been considered a pro-inflammatory cytokine, evidence that IFN-γ can also fulfill potent immunomodulatory properties is accumulating . Stimulation with IFN-γ can induce MSCs to inhibit T-cell proliferation [12, 15]. In vivo data on MSC-mediated immunosuppression, however, are less conclusive. When graft-versus-host disease is induced in mice, treatment with MSCs does not always result in amelioration of the disease [17–19]. T cell-mediated autoimmune diseases like experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis and experimental autoimmune enteropathy demonstrated an amelioration of symptoms after treatment with MSCs [20–22]. Treatment of collagen-induced arthritis (CIA), an animal model for rheumatoid arthritis, with MSCs has also been investigated. While three studies report amelioration of arthritic symptoms [23–25], others were unable to see beneficial effects of MSC treatment on the development of CIA [26, 27]. In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, MSCs were able to suppress collagen-specific T-cell responses in vitro . To strengthen the experimental background for future therapy with MSCs, we addressed the effect of MSCs on in vitro and in vivo T-cell proliferation and on CIA in this study. In addition, we investigated the role of IFN-γ by using MSCs isolated from IFN-γ receptor knockout (IFN-γR KO) mice.
Materials and methods
Isolation and expansion of mesenchymal stem cells
DBA/1 mice were bred in the Animal Centre of the University of Leuven. Bone marrow from 4- to 6-week-old DBA/1 and DBA/1 IFN-γR KO mice was flushed out of the femurs and tibias by using phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) supplemented with 2% fetal calf serum (FCS) (Gibco, now part of Invitrogen Corporation, Carlsbad, CA, USA). Cells were washed once with PBS 2% FCS and plated at a concentration of 0.6 to 0.8 × 106 cells/cm2 in Murine Mesencult medium (StemCell Technologies, Vancouver, BC, Canada) supplemented with 100 U/ml penicillin (Continental Pharma, Brussels, Belgium) and 100 μg/ml streptomycin (Continental Pharma). Cells were cultured in a humidified atmosphere with 5% CO2 at 37°C. Half of the medium was replaced after 2 days and thereafter twice a week for 3 weeks. When the colonies that had formed reached confluence, adherent cells were collected following a 5-minute incubation at 37°C with 0.05% trypsin/ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) (Gibco) and replated. MSCs of C57BL/6 origin were kindly provided by Darwin J Prockop and Catherine Verfaillie.
Flow cytometric characterization and differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells
MSCs were harvested by incubation with trypsin/EDTA and counted. MSCs were washed with PBS 2% FCS, stained with the indicated antibodies for 30 minutes and washed twice with PBS 2% FCS. For the biotin-conjugated antibody, a second staining step with streptavidin conjugated to fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC) was performed. Finally, the cells were fixed with 0.37% formaldehyde in PBS. The following antibodies were purchased from eBioscience (San Diego, CA, USA): Sca-1-FITC (stem cell antigen-1 [Ly-6A/E]), CD34-FITC, MHC-I-FITC, CD31-phycoerythrin (platelet endothelial cell adhesion molecule [PCAM]-PE), CD73-PE (ecto-5'-nuleotidase), MHC-II-PE, CD11b-PE, CD105-biotin (endoglin), and CD45-phycoerythrin-cyanine-5 (PE-Cy5). Flow cytometric analysis was performed on a FACSCalibur flow cytometer with CellQuest® software (BD Biosciences, San Jose, CA, USA). For differentiation, MSCs were plated in six-well plates and grown to confluence. Osteogenesis and adipogenesis were induced as described previously  and , respectively).
Anti-CD3-induced cell proliferation
CD4+ T cells and accessory cells (ACs) were isolated from DBA/1 mice and cultured in RPMI medium as described previously . CD4+ T cells (5 × 104 per well) were cultured in flat-bottomed 96-well plates with mitomycin-c-treated (Sigma-Aldrich, St. Louis, MO, USA) ACs (5 × 104 per well) and 3 μg/ml anti-CD3 antibody in the presence or absence of the indicated numbers of mitomycin-c-treated MSCs. The cultures were incubated for 72 hours at 37°C in 5% CO2 and pulsed for the last 16 hours with 1 μCi of [3H]TdR and harvested. The suppressive capacity of the MSCs is represented by the percentage inhibition. Alternatively, CD4+ T cells were labeled with carboxyfluorescein succinimidyl ester (CFSE) (Invitrogen Corporation, Carlsbad, CA, USA) before culture to analyze cell proliferation. T cells were resuspended in PBS 5% FCS at a concentration of 1 to 2 × 106 cells/ml and incubated with CFSE (final concentration of 50 μM) for 5 minutes at room temperature. Cells were washed three times with PBS 5% FCS and resuspended in culture medium at the indicated concentrations. For restoration of T-cell proliferation, co-cultures were grown in the presence of 200 μM 1-methyl-DL-tryptophan (Sigma-Aldrich), 10 μM indomethacin (Sigma-Aldrich), or 10 μM GW274150 (Alexis Biochemicals, Farmingdale, NY, USA).
Measurement of in vivoT-cell proliferation
In vivo T-cell proliferation was measured using the Click-iT™ EdU Flow Cytometry Assay Kit (Invitrogen Corporation). EdU (5-ethynyl-2'-deoxyuridine) is a nucleoside analog to thymidine and is incorporated into DNA during active DNA synthesis. One milligram of EdU in 100 μl of PBS was injected intraperitoneally into each mouse. After 4 hours, mice were sacrificed and lymph nodes (axillary, inguinal, and mesenteric) and spleens were harvested. Single-cell suspensions were obtained as described above and were incubated for 15 minutes with the Fc receptor-blocking antibodies anti-CD16 and anti-CD32 (CD16/CD32; Miltenyi Biotec, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany). Cells were washed with PBS 1% bovine serum albumin (BSA) and incubated with anti-CD4-FITC and anti-CD8-Per-CP antibodies (eBioscience) for 30 minutes and then washed twice with PBS 1% BSA followed by detection of incorporated EdU in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Flow cytometric analysis was performed on a FACSCalibur flow cytometer with CellQuest® software.
Quantitative polymerase chain reaction
RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, and real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for inducible nitric oxide (iNOS), IDO, cyclo-oxigenase-2 (COX-2), and PD-L1 (assay ID Mm00440485_m1, Mm00492586_m1, Mm01307334_g1, and Mm00452054_m1, respectively; Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA, USA) were performed as described previously .
Bio-Plex protein array system
Expression of cytokines (that is, interleukin-2 [IL-2], IL-5, IL-6, IL-10, IL-17, and IFN-γ) was determined by the Bio-Plex 200 system, Bio-Plex mouse Cytokine 8-plex assay, Bio-Plex mouse IL-6 assay, and Bio-Plex mouse IL-17 assay (Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc., Hercules, CA, USA).
Collagen-induced arthritis induction and treatment protocols
Experiments were performed in 8- to 12-week-old DBA/1 mice. CIA was induced and clinically assessed as described previously . To test the effect of MSCs on the disease course of CIA, mice were injected intravenously or intraperitoneally with 1 × 106 MSCs in 100 μl of sterile PBS at the indicated time points. Controls received injections of an equal volume of PBS at the same time points. All animal experiments were approved by the local ethics committee (University of Leuven).
Measurement of anti-CII antibodies and delayed-type hypersensitivity to CII
Blood samples were taken from the orbital sinus or by heart puncture and were allowed to clot at room temperature for 1 hour and at 4°C overnight. Individual sera were tested for antibodies directed to chicken collagen type II (CII) by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay as described earlier . For evaluation of delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) reactivity, CII/complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA)-immunized mice were subcutaneously injected with 20 μg of CII/20 μl of PBS in the right ear and with 20 μl of PBS in the left ear. DTH response was calculated as the percentage swelling (the difference between the increase of thickness of the right ear and the left ear, divided by the thickness of the left ear, multiplied by 100).
Data are expressed as the mean (standard error of the mean). Differences were analyzed by the Mann-Whitney U test. A P value of not more than 0.05 was considered significant.
Generation of mesenchymal stem cells and phenotypical analysis
The isolated mesenchymal stem cells differentiate into osteogenic and adipogenic lineages
To assess the multipotentiality of the cultured mouse MSCs, cells were subjected to in vitro osteogenic and adipogenic differentiation assays. In osteogenic medium, the MSCs of both wild-type and IFN-γR KO origin formed aggregates and showed enhanced calcium deposition as revealed by Alizarin Red stain (Figure 1e, middle and lower left panels) as compared with control cultures grown in medium without additives. By culturing the MSCs in adipogenic medium, only MSCs from DBA/1 IFN-γR KO mice showed some adipogenic differentiation (Figure 1e, lower right panel), whereas MSCs of DBA/1 wild-type origin showed no adipogenic differentiation (Figure 1c, middle right panel).
Mesenchymal stem cells suppress anti-CD3-induced T-cell proliferation in vitroby a mechanism involving interferon-gamma, inducible nitric oxide, and cyclo-oxigenase-2
Mesenchymal stem cell treatment has no effect on the development of collagen-induced arthritis
Cumulative incidence and mean scores of arthritis in mice treated with wild-type or IFN-γR KO DBA/1 MSCs or with C57BL/6 MSCsa
Cumulative incidencee, fraction (percentage)
Score of arthritis, mean ± SEMe, f
2.0 ± 0.9
1.5 ± 1.5
IFN-γR KO MSCs
1.6 ± 1.0
0.4 ± 0.3
1.3 ± 0.7
2.1 ± 0.6
IFN-γR KO MSCs
0.8 ± 0.4
Days 16 and 23
3.0 ± 1.4
2.5 ± 0.9
IFN-γR KO MSCs
2.0 ± 0.8
Days 16, 23, and 30
5.1 ± 1.5
5.3 ± 1.2
IFN-γR KO MSCs
4.6 ± 1.6
Days 16, 23, and 30
1.3 ± 0.5
2.7 ± 1.2
Since in recently reported studies MSCs that successfully affected CIA were injected intraperitoneally [23, 24], we performed an additional experiment in which wild-type or IFN-γR KO MSCs were administered intraperitoneally. Similarly to the intravenous administration, intraperitoneal treatment with MSCs did not influence the disease severity or incidence of arthritis compared with PBS-treated control mice (experiment 4 in Table 1). Here again, anti-CII IgG antibody levels were not different compared with controls (data not shown). The MSCs used in reference  were, however, of C57BL/6 origin. To exclude the possibility that the difference in treatment outcome depends on the mouse strain from which the MSCs are isolated, we performed an additional experiment in which MSCs of C57BL/6 origin were intraperitoneally injected. Again, there was no difference in cumulative incidence and mean arthritic score between the C57BL/6 MSC-treated and control-treated mice (experiment 5 in Table 1). The results of all experiments are summarized in Table 1.
Besides their inherent ability to differentiate into mesenchymal cell lineages  and their potential to repair damaged tissue [2, 3], MSCs have been shown to exert immunosuppressive properties on T cells. For this reason, studies to test the use of MSCs for treatment of several T cell-mediated inflammatory diseases have been conducted. In CIA, the effect of MSCs on the disease severity was not clear-cut [23–27]. Therefore, in the present study, we assessed the effect of MSCs on in vitro and in vivo T-cell proliferation as well as on CIA. By using MSCs of both IFN-γR KO and wild-type origin, we also addressed the role of IFN-γ in the immunomodulatory properties of MSCs.
The obtained MSCs demonstrated a phenotype that matches the generally accepted phenotype for murine MSCs, being positive for CD73 and Sca-1 and negative for CD11b, CD31, CD34, CD45, and CD90 . Differentiation toward osteocytes could be demonstrated in wild-type and IFN-γR KO MSCs and was equally potent in the two cell types. The differentiation of MSCs toward adipocytes was much less pronounced. A possible explanation for this observation can be the DBA/1 origin of the MSCs. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that DBA/1 MSCs formed osteocytes very potently but differentiation into adipocytes was much more difficult in this mouse strain compared with other strains .
Co-culturing anti-CD3-stimulated T cells and MSCs clearly resulted in an inhibition of T-cell proliferation in an IFN-γ-dependent way. This observation is in agreement with other reports emphasizing the role of IFN-γ in MSC-mediated immunosuppression [11, 12, 15, 39]. When T-cell proliferation was analyzed by radioactive thymidine incorporation, a higher suppression of T-cell proliferation could be achieved compared with analysis by CFSE dilution. A possible explanation for this difference might be the time frame during which proliferation was analyzed since MSCs need IFN-γ from activated T cells to suppress immune responses. CFSE is present from the start of the culture, whereas [3H]TdR is added only during the last 16 hours of cell culture. Thus, the CFSE-based method measures all T-cell proliferation, whereas the [3H]TdR method measures only late T-cell proliferation, when the inhibition by MSCs is ongoing. Irrespective of the method that is used for measurement of T-cell proliferation, IFN-γR KO MSCs display a defect in their potential to inhibit T-cell proliferation.
We identified a possible role for NO, PD-L1, and PGE2 but not IDO in the inhibition of T-cell proliferation by MSCs. Several independent reports identified NO as being one of the major mediators of T-cell suppression by MSCs [10, 15, 39, 40], whereas controversy about the involvement of IDO still exists [8, 11, 41, 42]. The same holds true for PD-L1 and PGE2, with reports supporting [11, 12] and refuting [8, 11] a role for these two T-cell inhibitors in T-cell proliferation inhibition. In addition, we could demonstrate that IL-17, in synergy with IFN-γ, can induce the expression of iNOS, COX-2, and PD-L1 in MSCs. Thus, IL-17 and IFN-γ from activated T cells can induce MSCs to suppress ongoing T-cell responses in vitro.
Treatment with MSCs did not affect the disease course of CIA. The pathogenesis of CIA, an animal model of human rheumatoid arthritis, depends on both CII-specific T cells and antibody responses against CII [43, 44]. Both of these specific immune responses against CII remained unaffected upon transfer of MSCs. In five experiments, MSCs administered intravenously or intraperitoneally did not affect the development of arthritis (Table 1). A possible explanation for the discrepancy between the in vitro and in vivo settings might be that the intravenously injected MSCs do not reach the spleen and lymph nodes and are therefore unable to inhibit the T-cell proliferation and CIA. In rats, radioactively labeled MSCs distribute mainly to the lungs and liver when intravenously administered [45, 46]. Only small amounts of radioactivity could be detected in the spleen. Moreover, evidence exists that MSCs lose their homing ability to bone marrow after 48 hours of culture . Since the MSCs used in this report were cultured for several weeks, cells may have lost their ability for homing to lymphoid organs. This homing ability can be improved by genetic manipulation of MSCs before transfer, as evident from a recent study reporting improved homing of MSCs to bone marrow in mice after overexpression of the chemokine receptor CXCR4 .
Chronologic overview of literature describing the effect of mesenchymal stem cells on collagen-induced arthritis
1 × 106
4 × 106
1 × 106
5 × 106
1 × 106
1 × 106
1 × 106
1 × 106
1 × 106
2 × 106
Our data demonstrate that murine bone marrow-derived MSCs potently inhibit in vitro T-cell proliferation in an IFN-γ-dependent mechanism that involves NO and PGE2. These in vitro data, however, could not be extrapolated to an in vivo situation. Neither in vivo anti-CD3-induced T-cell proliferation nor the development of CIA was affected by MSC treatment. Thus, although MSCs provide promising tools for the treatment of several autoimmune diseases, prudence is called for in extrapolating in vitro and animal data to the human situation.
bovine serum albumin
complete Freund's adjuvant
carboxyfluorescein succinimidyl ester
collagen type II
fetal calf serum
- IFN-γR KO:
interferon-gamma receptor knockout
inducible nitric oxide
mesenchymal stem cell
polymerase chain reaction
programmed death ligand-1
We thank Omer Rutgeerts and Chris Dillen for excellent technical assistance; Rik Lories, Ghislain Opdenakker, and Paul Proost for critical reading of the manuscript; and An Billiau for helpful discussions. We are grateful to Catherine Verfaillie and Darwin J Prockop for providing us with the C57BL/6 MSCs. This study was supported by grants from the Regional Government of Flanders (GOA program).
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