Significant improvement in the understanding of mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) biology has opened the way to their clinical use. However, concerns regarding the possibility that MSCs undergo malignant transformation have been raised. We investigated the susceptibility to transformation of human bone marrow (BM)-derived MSCs at different in vitro culture time points. MSCs were isolated from BM of 10 healthy donors and propagated in vitro until reaching either senescence or passage (P) 25. MSCs in the senescence phase were closely monitored for 8 to 12 weeks before interrupting the cultures. The genetic characterization of MSCs was investigated through array-comparative genomic hybridization (array-CGH), conventional karyotyping, and subtelomeric fluorescent in situ hybridization analysis both before and after prolonged culture. MSCs were tested for the expression of telomerase activity, human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) transcripts, and alternative lengthening of telomere (ALT) mechanism at different passages. A huge variability in terms of proliferative capacity and MSCs life span was noted between donors. In eight of 10 donors, MSCs displayed a progressive decrease in proliferative capacity until reaching senescence. In the remaining two MSC samples, the cultures were interrupted at P25 to pursue data analysis. Array-CGH and cytogenetic analyses showed that MSCs expanded in vitro did not show chromosomal abnormalities. Telomerase activity and hTERT transcripts were not expressed in any of the examined cultures and telomeres shortened during the culture period. ALT was not evidenced in the MSCs tested. BM-derived MSCs can be safely expanded in vitro and are not susceptible to malignant transformation, thus rendering these cells suitable for cell therapy approaches.
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