Automated image analysis detects aging in clinical-grade mesenchymal stromal cell cultures

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Stem Cell Research & Therapy. 2018 Jan 10;9(1):6

Title: Automated image analysis detects aging in clinical-grade mesenchymal stromal cell cultures
Author: Oja, S.; Komulainen, P.; Penttilä, A.; Nystedt, J.; Korhonen, M.
Publisher: BioMed Central
Date: 2018-01-10
Abstract: Abstract Background Senescent cells are undesirable in cell therapy products due to reduced therapeutic activity and risk of aberrant cellular effects, and methods for assessing senescence are needed. Early-passage mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) are known to be small and spindle-shaped but become enlarged upon cell aging. Indeed, cell morphology is routinely evaluated during MSC production using subjective methods. We have therefore explored the possibility of utilizing automated imaging-based analysis of cell morphology in clinical cell manufacturing. Methods An imaging system was adopted for analyzing changes in cell morphology of bone marrow-derived MSCs during long-term culture. Cells taken from the cultures at the desired passages were plated at low density for imaging, representing morphological changes observed in the clinical-grade cultures. The manifestations of aging and onset of senescence were monitored by population doubling numbers, expression of p16INK4a and p21Cip1/Waf1, β-galactosidase activity, and telomeric terminal restriction fragment analysis. Results Cell area was the most statistically significant and practical parameter for describing morphological changes, correlating with biochemical senescence markers. MSCs from passages 1 (p1) and 3 (p3) were remarkably uniform in size, with cell areas between 1800 and 2500 μm2. At p5 the cells began to enlarge resulting in a 4.8-fold increase at p6–9 as compared to p1. The expression of p16INK4a and activity of β-galactosidase had a strong correlation with the increase in cell area, whereas the expression of p21Cip1/Waf1 reached its maximum at the onset of growth arrest and subsequently decreased. Mean telomere length shortened at an apparently constant rate during culture, from 8.2 ± 0.3 kbp at p1, reaching 6.08 ± 0.6 kbp at senescence. Conclusions Imaging analysis of cell morphology is a useful tool for evaluating aging in cell cultures throughout the lifespan of MSCs. Our findings suggest that imaging analysis can reproducibly detect aging-related changes in cell morphology in MSC cultures. These findings suggest that cell morphology is still a supreme measure of cell quality and may be utilized to develop new noninvasive imaging-based methods to screen and quantitate aging in clinical-grade cell cultures.
Subject: Mesenchymal stromal cells
Quality control
Cell manufacturing
Cell therapy

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