Mesenchymal Stem Cell Levels of Human Spinal Tissues

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Study Design.

Systematic review.


The aim of this study was to investigate, quantify, compare, and compile the various mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) tissue sources within human spinal tissues to act as a compendium for clinical and research application.

Summary of Background Data.

Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in academic and clinical understanding of human MSCs. Previously limited to cells isolated from bone marrow, the past decade has illicited the characterization and isolation of human MSCs from adipose, bone marrow, synovium, muscle, periosteum, peripheral blood, umbilical cord, placenta, and numerous other tissues. As researchers explore practical applications of cells in these tissues, the absolute levels of MSCs in specific spinal tissue will be critical to guide future research.


The PubMED, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Cochrane databases were searched for articles relating to the harvest, characterization, isolation, and quantification of human MSCs from spinal tissues. Selected articles were examined for relevant data, categorized according to type of spinal tissue, and when possible, standardized to facilitate comparisons between sites.


Human MSC levels varied widely between spinal tissues. Yields for intervertebral disc demonstrated roughly 5% of viable cells to be positive for MSC surface markers. Cartilage endplate cells yielded 18,500 to 61,875 cells/0.8 mm thick sample of cartilage end plate. Ligamentum flavum yielded 250,000 to 500,000 cells/g of tissue. Annulus fibrosus fluorescence activated cell sorting treatment found 29% of cells positive for MSC marker Stro-1. Nucleus pulposus yielded mean tissue samples of 40,584 to 234,137 MSCs per gram of tissue.


Numerous tissues within and surrounding the spine represent a consistent and reliable source for the harvest and isolation of human MSCs. Among the tissues of the spine, the annulus fibrosus and ligamentum flavum each offer considerable levels of MSCs, and may prove comparable to that of bone marrow.


Level of Evidence: 5

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