Trauma and Stem Cells: Biology and Potential Therapeutic Implications
INTRODUCTION It has been reported that cells or growth factors might improve bone regeneration in nonunion. However, the intrinsic potential of the nonunion tissue to regenerate bone is still unclear; in particular, it is not known whether there are progenitor cells within the nonunion. Thus, in this study, a clinically relevant model has been developed to investigate the nature of the cells in atrophic nonunion tissue and to assess their regenerative potential. MATERIALS AND METHODS Seventeen Wistar rats underwent the procedure to induce an atrophic nonunion at the tibial midshaft by stripping the periosteum and endosteum as well as creating a small (1.0 mm) noncritical gap. The fracture was stabilized with an external fixator. The proliferation ability of bone marrow-derived cells and nonunion tissue-derived cells was determined using colony forming assays. The differentiation potential of nonunion tissue-derived cells was also investigated. RESULTS Noncritical size defect nonunions were successfully induced in all of the animals. The typical characteristics of atrophic nonunions were demonstrated by radiography, micro-CT, and histology. An atrophic nonunion stimulated a systemic response in the bone marrow with an increase in bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells. In contrast, cells derived from the nonunion gap were not able to form colonies. This indicated that the quiescent or inactive cells in the tissue at the atrophic nonunion gap could be induced to differentiate under osteogenic and chondrogenic conditions, but not under adipogenic conditions. Thus, these cells had the characteristics of osteochondral progenitor cells. DISCUSSION Although there was an increase in the systemic response in the atrophic nonunion model, the intrinsic potential of local tissue from the atrophic nonunion site was impaired. The cells derived from nonunion tissue could be stimulated to differentiate into bone under appropriate conditions. This suggested that there are progenitor cells in atrophic nonunion tissue, which have an intrinsic ability to regenerate bone, but the microenvironment in the atrophic nonunion site might be retarding their function. Consequently, physical or biological agents (such as growth factors or cells) are needed to reactivate the endogenous progenitor cells to make them regenerate bone in atrophic nonunions.