Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent cells that arise from the mesenchyme during development. They reside in the bone marrow close to hematopoietic stem cell niches allowing them to maintain bone marrow homeostasis and to regulate the maturation of both hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic cells. MSCs possess an extensive potential to proliferate and differentiate e.g. into osteoblasts, osteocytes, adipocytes and chondrocytes. Nevertheless, there still are some open questions about the complex process of MSC differentiation involving different transcription factors and signaling pathways, which will be discussed in this review. We also shortly introduce the characteristics and function of bone-forming osteoblasts and their role in angiogenesis. MSCs are of interest in clinical applications, since they can be easily isolated from bone marrow aspirates and expanded in vitro. When the source of osteoprogenitors is compromised, cell-based therapies could provide a novel way to repair bone defects. Indeed, there is an increasing interest in the use of MSCs and more differentiated cells in clinical applications for bone repair, which will be introduced in this review. A major section of the review is dedicated to the functions of osteocytes in the regulation of bone remodeling. Finally, we present an original hypothesis about the possible role of osteocytes in future bone tissue engineering.
Keywords: Mesenchymal stem cells, osteoblasts, osteocytes, bone metabolism, tissue engineering
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