Introduction: Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent stromal cells characterized by their ability to differentiate into adipocytes, chondrocytes, osteocytes and a number of other lineages. Investigation into their use has increased in recent years as characterization of their immunomodulatory properties has developed, and their role in the pathophysiology of joint disease has been suggested.
Areas covered: MSCs demonstrate immunosuppressive functionality by suppressing T- and B-cell responses following activation by cytokines such as IL-6 and IL-1α. They also can be induced to exert pro-inflammatory effects in the presence of acute inflammatory environment due to the actions of TNF-α and IFN-γ. In inflammatory joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, MSCs in bone marrow migrate to joints by a TNF-α-dependent mechanism and may be in part responsible for the disease process. MSCs have also been demonstrated in increased numbers in periarticular tissues in osteoarthritis, which may reflect an attempt at joint regeneration.
Expert opinion: Clinical applications for MSCs have shown promise in a number of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. Future work is likely to further reveal the immunosuppressive characteristics of MSCs, their role in the pathophysiology of joint diseases and provide the basis for new avenues for treatment.