In the past decade, calcium phosphate (CaP) ceramics have emerged as alternatives to autologous bone grafts for the treatment of large, critical-sized bone defects. In order to be effective in the regeneration of such defects, ceramics must show osteoinductive behaviour, defined as the ability to induce de novo heterotopic bone formation. While a set of osteoinductive CaP ceramics has been developed, the exact processes underlying osteoinduction, and the role of the physical and chemical properties of the ceramics, remain largely unknown. Previous studies have focused on the role of the transcriptome to shed light on the mechanism of osteoinduction at the mRNA level. To complement these studies, a proteomic analysis was performed to study the behaviour of hMSCs on osteoinductive and non-osteoinductive CaPs. The results of this analysis suggest that plasma cell glycoprotein 1 (PC-1), encoded by the ectonucleotide pyrophosphatase/phosphodiesterase 1 (ENPP1) gene, plays a key role in the process of osteoinduction by CaP ceramics. Validation experiments have confirmed that indeed, the mRNA expression of ENPP1 and the production of PC-1 are higher on osteoinductive than on non-osteoinductive CaP ceramics, a trend that was also observed for other osteogenic markers such as bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP2) and osteopontin (OPN), but not for alkaline phosphatase (ALP). Our results also showed that the expression of PC-1 is restricted to those cells which are in direct contact with the CaP ceramic surface, plausibly due to the localised depletion of calcium and inorganic phosphate ions from the supersaturated cell culture medium as CaP crystallises on the ceramic surface. Replicating the surface of the osteoinductive ceramic in polystyrene resulted in a significant decrease in ENPP1 expression, suggesting that surface structural properties alone are not sufficient to induce ENPP1 expression. Finally, knocking down ENPP1 expression in hMSCs resulted in increased BMP2 expression, both at the mRNA and protein level, suggesting that ENPP1 is a negative regulator of BMP-2 signalling. Taken together, this study shows, for the first time, that ENPP1/PC-1 plays an important role in CaP-induced osteogenic differentiation of hMSCs and thus possibly osteoinduction by CaP ceramics. Furthermore, we have identified a crucial role for the interfacial (chemical) events occurring on the CaP ceramic surface in the process of osteoinduction. This knowledge can contribute to the development of new bone graft substitutes, with improved osteoinductive potential.
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