Successful stem cell therapy requires the optimal proliferation, engraftment, and differentiation of stem cells into the desired cell lineage of tissues. However, stem cell therapy clinical trials to date have had limited success, suggesting that a better understanding of stem cell biology is needed. This includes a better understanding of stem cell energy metabolism because of the importance of energy metabolism in stem cell proliferation and differentiation. We report here the first direct evidence that human bone marrow mesenchymal stem cell (BMMSC) energy metabolism is highly glycolytic with low rates of mitochondrial oxidative metabolism. The contribution of glycolysis to ATP production is greater than 97% in undifferentiated BMMSCs, while glucose and fatty acid oxidation combined only contribute 3% of ATP production. We also assessed the effect of physiological levels of fatty acids on human BMMSC survival and energy metabolism. We found that the saturated fatty acid palmitate induces BMMSC apoptosis and decreases proliferation, an effect prevented by the unsaturated fatty acid oleate. Interestingly, chronic exposure of human BMMSCs to physiological levels of palmitate (for 24 hr) reduces palmitate oxidation rates. This decrease in palmitate oxidation is prevented by chronic exposure of the BMMSCs to oleate. These results suggest that reducing saturated fatty acid oxidation can decrease human BMMSC proliferation and cause cell death. These results also suggest that saturated fatty acids may be involved in the long-term impairment of BMMSC survival in vivo.
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