Fetal bovine serum (FBS) is a widely used supplement in cell culture medium, despite its known variability in composition, which greatly affects cellular function and consequently the outcome of studies. In bone tissue engineering, the deposited mineralized matrix is one of the main outcome parameters, but using different brands of FBS can result in large variations. Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) is present in FBS. Not only is ALP used to judge the osteogenic differentiation of bone cells, it may affect deposition of mineralized matrix. The present study focused on the enzymatic activity of ALP in FBS of different suppliers and its contribution to mineralization in osteogenic differentiation cultures. It was hypothesized that culturing cells in a medium with high intrinsic ALP activity of FBS will lead to higher mineral deposition compared to media with lower ALP activity. The used FBS types were shown to have significant differences in enzymatic ALP activity. Our results indicate that the ALP activity of the medium not only affected the deposited mineralized matrix but also the osteogenic differentiation of cells as measured by a changed cellular ALP activity of human-bone-marrow-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (hBMSCs). In media with low inherent ALP activity, the cellular ALP activity was increased and played the major role in the mineralization process, while in media with high intrinsic ALP activity contribution from the serum, less cellular ALP activity was measured, and the ALP activity of the medium also contributed to mineral formation substantially. Our results highlight the diverse effects of ALP activity intrinsic to FBS on osteogenic differentiation and matrix mineralization and how FBS can determine the experimental outcomes, in particular for studies investigating matrix mineralization. Once again, the need to replace FBS with more controlled and known additives is highlighted.
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