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Indian hedgehog gene transfer is a chondrogenic inducer of human mesenchymal stem cells

Andre F Steinert1*, Manuel Weissenberger1, Manuela Kunz1, Fabian Gilbert1, Steven C Ghivizzani2, Sascha Göbel1, Franz Jakob1, Ulrich Nöth1 and Maximilian Rudert1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, König-Ludwig-Haus, Center for Musculoskeletal Research, Julius-Maximilians-University, Brettreichstraße 11, Würzburg 97074, Germany

2 Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, University of Florida, 1600 SW Archer Road, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:R168  doi:10.1186/ar3921

Published: 20 July 2012



To date, no single most-appropriate factor or delivery method has been identified for the purpose of mesenchymal stem cell (MSC)-based treatment of cartilage injury. Therefore, in this study we tested whether gene delivery of the growth factor Indian hedgehog (IHH) was able to induce chondrogenesis in human primary MSCs, and whether it was possible by such an approach to modulate the appearance of chondrogenic hypertrophy in pellet cultures in vitro.


First-generation adenoviral vectors encoding the cDNA of the human IHH gene were created by cre-lox recombination and used alone or in combination with adenoviral vectors, bone morphogenetic protein-2 (Ad.BMP-2), or transforming growth factor beta-1 (Ad.TGF-β1) to transduce human bone-marrow derived MSCs at 5 × 102 infectious particles/cell. Thereafter, 3 × 105 cells were seeded into aggregates and cultured for 3 weeks in serum-free medium, with untransduced or marker gene transduced cultures as controls. Transgene expressions were determined by ELISA, and aggregates were analysed histologically, immunohistochemically, biochemically and by RT-PCR for chondrogenesis and hypertrophy.


IHH, TGF-β1 and BMP-2 genes were equipotent inducers of chondrogenesis in primary MSCs, as evidenced by strong staining for proteoglycans, collagen type II, increased levels of glycosaminoglycan synthesis, and expression of mRNAs associated with chondrogenesis. IHH-modified aggregates, alone or in combination, also showed a tendency to progress towards hypertrophy, as judged by the expression of alkaline phosphatase and stainings for collagen type X and Annexin 5.


As this study provides evidence for chondrogenic induction of MSC aggregates in vitro via IHH gene delivery, this technology may be efficiently employed for generating cartilaginous repair tissues in vivo.