Dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs) are particularly promising for tissue engineering (TE) due to the ease of their isolation procedure, great expansion potential and capability to differentiate towards several cell types of the mesodermal, ectodermal and endodermal lineages. Although several studies hint that DPSCs exhibit potential for cartilage tissue formation, the chondrogenic potential of DPSCs has only been marginally explored. Thus, the aim of the present study was to closely investigate the chondrogenic differentiation capacity of DPSCs for TE applications. More specifically, the potential of DPSCs for engineering hyaline and fibrous cartilage was determined. DPSCs obtained from 7 human molars were expanded and chondrogenically differentiated in a 3D pellet culture model. After 21 d of differentiation with chondrogenic stimuli, DPSCs displayed glycosaminoglycan, aggrecan and limited collagen type II deposition. Cells presented an elongated morphology and produced a collagen-rich extracellular matrix, with a predominance of collagen type I in most of the samples, a characteristic of fibrous cartilage tissue. Variations in the administration periods of several chondro-inductive growth factors, including transforming growth factor beta 3, bone morphogenetic protein-2, -6, -7 and insulin-like growth factor-1, did not increase glycosaminoglycan or collagen type II deposition, typical markers of hyaline cartilage tissue. Furthermore, DPSCs could not be stimulated to go into hypertrophic chondrogenesis. These results indicated that under a large variety of chondro-inductive culture conditions, DPSCs could form fibrocartilaginous tissues but not hyaline cartilage. Thus, DPSCs represent a valuable cell source for the regeneration of fibrocartilage in joints.
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