Open Access Research article

Relative percentage and zonal distribution of mesenchymal progenitor cells in human osteoarthritic and normal cartilage

David Pretzel12*, Stefanie Linss1, Steffen Rochler1, Michaela Endres3, Christian Kaps3, Saifeddin Alsalameh4 and Raimund W Kinne1

Author Affiliations

1 Experimental Rheumatology Unit, Department of Orthopedics, University Hospital Jena, Klosterlausnitzer Str. 81, Eisenberg, D-07607, Germany

2 Laboratory of Organic and Macromolecular Chemistry, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Humboldtstr. 10, Jena, D-07743, Germany

3 TransTissue Technologies, Charitéplatz 1/Virchowweg 11, Berlin, D-10117, Germany

4 Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology & Clinical Immunology, P.O. Box 2951, Mafraq Hospital, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2011, 13:R64  doi:10.1186/ar3320

Published: 15 April 2011



Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) are highly attractive for use in cartilage regeneration. To date, MSC are usually recruited from subchondral bone marrow using microfracture. Recent data suggest that isolated cells from adult human articular cartilage, which express the combination of the cell-surface markers CD105 and CD166, are multi-potent mesenchymal progenitor cells (MPC) with characteristics similar to MSC. MPC within the cartilage matrix, the target of tissue regeneration, may provide the basis for in situ regeneration of focal cartilage defects. However, there is only limited information concerning the presence/abundance of CD105+/CD166+ MPC in human articular cartilage. The present study therefore assessed the relative percentage and particularly the zonal distribution of cartilage MPC using the markers CD105/CD166.


Specimens of human osteoarthritic (OA; n = 11) and normal (n = 3) cartilage were used for either cell isolation or immunohistochemistry. Due to low numbers, isolated cells were expanded for 2 weeks and then analyzed by flow cytometry (FACS) or immunofluorescence in chamber slides for the expression of CD105 and CD166. Following immunomagnetic separation of CD166+/- OA cells, multi-lineage differentiation assays were performed. Also, the zonal distribution of CD166+ cells within the matrix of OA and normal cartilage was analyzed by immunohistochemistry.


FACS analysis showed that 16.7 ± 2.1% (mean ± SEM) of OA and 15.3 ± 2.3 of normal chondrocytes (n.s.) were CD105+/CD166+ and thus carried the established MPC marker combination. Similarly, 13.2% ± 0.9% and 11.7 ± 2.1 of CD105+/CD166+cells, respectively, were identified by immunofluorescence in adherent OA and normal chondrocytes. The CD166+ enriched OA cells showed a stronger induction of the chondrogenic phenotype in differentiation assays than the CD166+ depleted cell population, underlining the chondrogenic potential of the MPC. Strikingly, CD166+ cells in OA and normal articular cartilage sections (22.1 ± 1.7% and 23.6% ± 1.4%, respectively; n.s.) were almost exclusively located in the superficial and middle zone.


The present results underline the suitability of CD166 as a biomarker to identify and, in particular, localize and/or enrich resident MPC with a high chondrogenic potential in human articular cartilage. The percentage of MPC in both OA and normal cartilage is substantially higher than previously reported, suggesting a yet unexplored reserve capacity for regeneration.