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Identification of subpopulations in mesenchymal stem cell-like cultures from human umbilical cord

Ingrida Majore1, Pierre Moretti1, Ralf Hass2 and Cornelia Kasper1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Technical Chemistry, Leibniz University of Hannover, Callinstraße 3, 30167 Hannover, Germany

2 Laboratory of Biochemistry and Tumor Biology, Clinic of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Medical University, Hannover, Carl-Neuberg-Straße 1, 30625 Hannover, Germany

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Cell Communication and Signaling 2009, 7:6  doi:10.1186/1478-811X-7-6

Published: 20 March 2009



A variety of cell types can be identified in the adherent fraction of bone marrow mononuclear cells including more primitive and embryonic-like stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), lineage-committed progenitors as well as mature cells such as osteoblasts and fibroblasts. Different methods are described for the isolation of single bone marrow stem cell subpopulations – beginning from ordinary size sieving, long term cultivation under specific conditions to FACS-based approaches. Besides bone marrow-derived subpopulations, also other tissues including human umbilical cord (UC) have been recently suggested to provide a potential source for MSC. Although of clinical importance, these UC-derived MSC populations remain to be characterized. It was thus the aim of the present study to identify possible subpopulations in cultures of MSC-like cells obtained from UC. We used counterflow centrifugal elutriation (CCE) as a novel strategy to successfully address this question.


UC-derived primary cells were separated by CCE and revealed differentially-sized populations in the fractions. Thus, a subpopulation with an average diameter of about 11 μm and a small flat cell body was compared to a large sized subpopulation of about 19 μm average diameter. Flow cytometric analysis revealed the expression of certain MSC stem cell markers including CD44, CD73, CD90 and CD105, respectively, although these markers were expressed at higher levels in the small-sized population. Moreover, this small-sized subpopulation exhibited a higher proliferative capacity as compared to the total UC-derived primary cultures and the large-sized cells and demonstrated a reduced amount of aging cells.


Using the CCE technique, we were the first to demonstrate a subpopulation of small-sized UC-derived primary cells carrying MSC-like characteristics according to the presence of various mesenchymal stem cell markers. This is also supported by the high proliferative capacity of these MSC-like cells as compared to whole primary culture or other UC-derived subpopulations. The accumulation of a self-renewing MSC-like subpopulation by CCE with low expression levels of the aging marker senescence-associated β-galactosidase provides a valuable tool in the regenerative medicine and an alternative to bone-marrow-derived MSC.