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Stem Cells International
Volume 2011, Article ID 201371, 18 pages
Review Article

Epigenetic Regulation of Mesenchymal Stem Cells: A Focus on Osteogenic and Adipogenic Differentiation

1Molecular Oncology Laboratory, Department of Surgery, The University of Chicago Medical Center, 5841 South Maryland Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, USA
2Stem Cell Biology and Therapy Laboratory, Key Laboratory for Pediatrics, The Children's Hospital of Chongqing Medical University, Chongqing 400016, China
3Key Laboratory of Diagnostic Medicine, Chongqing Medical University, Chongqing 400016, China
4School of Bioengineering, Chongqing University, Chongqing 400016, China
5Department of Cell Biology, The Third Military Medical University, Chongqing 400038, China
6Institute of Materia Medica, Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou 310053, China

Received 21 March 2011; Accepted 27 April 2011

Academic Editor: Giorgio A. Presicce

Copyright © 2011 Chad M. Teven et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Stem cells are characterized by their capability to self-renew and terminally differentiate into multiple cell types. Somatic or adult stem cells have a finite self-renewal capacity and are lineage-restricted. The use of adult stem cells for therapeutic purposes has been a topic of recent interest given the ethical considerations associated with embryonic stem (ES) cells. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are adult stem cells that can differentiate into osteogenic, adipogenic, chondrogenic, or myogenic lineages. Owing to their ease of isolation and unique characteristics, MSCs have been widely regarded as potential candidates for tissue engineering and repair. While various signaling molecules important to MSC differentiation have been identified, our complete understanding of this process is lacking. Recent investigations focused on the role of epigenetic regulation in lineage-specific differentiation of MSCs have shown that unique patterns of DNA methylation and histone modifications play an important role in the induction of MSC differentiation toward specific lineages. Nevertheless, MSC epigenetic profiles reflect a more restricted differentiation potential as compared to ES cells. Here we review the effect of epigenetic modifications on MSC multipotency and differentiation, with a focus on osteogenic and adipogenic differentiation. We also highlight clinical applications of MSC epigenetics and nuclear reprogramming.