What is it that defines a bone marrow-derived chondrocyte? We attempted to identify marrow-derived cells with chondrogenic nature and immortality without transformation, defining "immortality" simply as indefinite cell division. KUM5 mesenchymal cells, a marrow stromal cell line, generated hyaline cartilage in vivo and exhibited enchondral ossification at a later stage after implantation. Selection of KUM5 chondroblasts based on the activity of the chondrocyte-specific cis-regulatory element of the collagen α2(XI) gene resulted in enhancement of their chondrogenic nature. Gene chip analysis revealed that OP9 cells, another marrow stromal cell line, derived from macrophage colony-stimulating factor-deficient osteopetrotic mice and also known to be niche-constituting cells for hematopoietic stem cells expressed chondrocyte-specific or -associated genes such as type II collagen α1, Sox9, and cartilage oligomeric matrix protein at an extremely high level, as did KUM5 cells. After cultured OP9 micromasses exposed to TGF-β3 and BMP2 were implanted in mice, they produced abundant metachromatic matrix with the toluidine blue stain and formed type II collagen-positive hyaline cartilage within 2 weeks in vivo. Hierarchical clustering and principal component analysis based on microarray data of the expression of cell surface markers and cell-type-specific genes resulted in grouping of KUM5 and OP9 cells into the same subcategory of "chondroblast," that is, a distinct cell type group. We here show that these two cell lines exhibit the unique characteristics of hyaline cartilage formation and enchondral ossification in vitro and in vivo.
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