Human Tendon Stem/Progenitor Cell Features and Functionality Are Highly Influenced by in vitro Culture Conditions

Carlotta Perucca Orfei, Annie C. Bowles, Dimitrios Kouroupis, Melissa A. Willman, Enrico Ragni, Lee D. Kaplan, Thomas M. Best, Diego Correa, Laura de Girolamo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our understanding of tendon biology continues to evolve, thus leading to opportunities for developing novel, evidence-based effective therapies for the treatment of tendon disorders. Implementing the knowledge of tendon stem/progenitor cells (TSPCs) and assessing their potential in enhancing tendon repair could fill an important gap in this regard. We described different molecular and phenotypic profiles of TSPCs modulated by culture density, as well as their multipotency and secretory activities. Moreover, in the same experimental setting, we evaluated for different responses to inflammatory stimuli mediated by TNFα and IFNγ. We also preliminarily investigated their immunomodulatory activity and their role in regulating degradation of substance P. Our findings indicated that TSPCs cultured at low density (LD) exhibited cobblestone morphology and a reduced propensity to differentiate. A distinctive immunophenotypic profile was also observed with high secretory and promising immunomodulatory responses when primed with TNFα and IFNγ. In contrast, TSPCs cultured at high density (HD) showed a more elongated fibroblast-like morphology, a greater adipogenic differentiation potential, and a higher expression of tendon-related genes with respect to LD. Finally, HD TSPCs showed immunomodulatory potential when primed with TNFα and IFNγ, which was slightly lower than that shown by LD. A shift from low to high culture density during TSPC expansion demonstrated intermediate features confirming the cellular adaptability of TSPCs. Taken together, these experiments allowed us to identify relevant differences in TSPCs based on culture conditions. This ability of TSPCs to acquire distinguished morphology, phenotype, gene expression profile, and functional response advances our current understanding of tendons at a cellular level and suggests responsivity to cues in their in situ microenvironment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number711964
JournalFrontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
StatePublished - Sep 20 2021


  • Tendon Stem/Progenitor cells
  • culture density
  • immunomodulation
  • inflammation
  • substance P
  • tendinopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Histology
  • Biomedical Engineering


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