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The production of a clinically useful engineered cartilage is an outstanding and unmet clinical need. High-throughput RNA sequencing provides a means of characterizing the molecular phenotype of populations of cells and can be leveraged to better understand differences among source cells, derivative engineered tissues, and target phenotypes. In this study, small RNA sequencing is utilized to comprehensively characterize the microRNA transcriptomes (miRNomes) of native human neonatal articular cartilage and human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hBM-MSCs) differentiating into cartilage organoids, contrasting the microRNA regulation of engineered cartilage with that of a promising target phenotype. Five dominant microRNAs are upregulated during cartilage organoid differentiation and disproportionately regulate transcription factors: miR-148a-3p, miR-140-3p, miR-27b-3p, miR-140-5p, and miR-181a-5p. Two microRNAs that dominate the miRNomes of hBM-MSCs, miR-21-5p and miR-143-3p, persist throughout the differentiation process and may limit the ability of these cells to differentiate into an engineered cartilage resembling target native articular cartilage. By using predictive bioinformatics tools and antagomir inhibition, these persistent microRNAs are shown to destabilize the mRNA of genes with known or potential roles in cartilage biology including FGF18, TGFBR2, TET1, STOX2, ARAP2, N4BP2L1, LHX9, NFIA, and RPS6KA5. These results shed light on the extent to which only a few microRNAs contribute to the complex regulatory environment of hBM-MSCs for engineered tissues. Impact statement MicroRNAs are emerging as important controlling elements in the differentiation of human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hBM-MSCs). By using a robust bioinformatic approach and further validation in vitro, here we provide a comprehensive characterization of the microRNA transcriptomes (miRNomes) of a commonly studied and clinically promising source of multipotent cells (hBM-MSCs), a gold standard model of in vitro chondrogenesis (hBM-MSC-derived cartilage organoids), and an attractive in vivo target phenotype for clinically useful engineered cartilage (neonatal articular cartilage). These analyses highlighted a specific set of microRNAs involved in the chondrogenic program that could be manipulated to acquire a more robust articular cartilage-like phenotype. This characterization provides researchers in the cartilage tissue engineering field a useful atlas with which to contextualize microRNA involvement in complex differentiation pathways.


Daniel J Vail, Rodrigo A Somoza, Arnold I Caplan. MicroRNA Regulation of Bone Marrow Mesenchymal Stem Cell Chondrogenesis: Toward Articular Cartilage. Tissue engineering. Part A. 2022 Mar;28(5-6):254-269

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PMID: 34328786

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