Epigenetic Reprogramming via Synergistic Hypomethylation and Hypoxia Enhances the Therapeutic Efficacy of Mesenchymal Stem Cell Extracellular Vesicles for Bone Repair

Kenny Man, Mathieu Y. Brunet, Rebecca Lees, Ben Peacock, Sophie C. Cox*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a promising cell population for regenerative medicine applications, where paracrine signalling through the extracellular vesicles (EVs) regulates bone tissue homeostasis and development. MSCs are known to reside in low oxygen tension, which promotes osteogenic differentiation via hypoxia-inducible factor-1α activation. Epigenetic reprogramming has emerged as a promising bioengineering strategy to enhance MSC differentiation. Particularly, the process of hypomethylation may enhance osteogenesis through gene activation. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate the synergistic effects of inducing hypomethylation and hypoxia on improving the therapeutic efficacy of EVs derived from human bone marrow MSCs (hBMSCs). The effects of the hypoxia mimetic agent deferoxamine (DFO) and the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-azacytidine (AZT) on hBMSC viability was assessed by quantifying the DNA content. The epigenetic functionality was evaluated by assessing histone acetylation and histone methylation. hBMSC mineralisation was determined by quantifying alkaline phosphate activity, collagen production and calcium deposition. EVs were procured from AZT, DFO or AZT/DFO-treated hBMSCs over a two-week period, with EV size and concentration defined using transmission electron microscopy, nanoflow cytometry and dynamic light scattering. The effects of AZT-EVs, DFO-EVs or AZT/DFO-EVs on the epigenetic functionality and mineralisation of hBMSCs were evaluated. Moreover, the effects of hBMSC-EVs on human umbilical cord vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) angiogenesis was assessed by quantifying pro-angiogenic cytokine release. DFO and AZT caused a time–dose dependent reduction in hBMSC viability. Pre-treatment with AZT, DFO or AZT/DFO augmented the epigenetic functionality of the MSCs through increases in histone acetylation and hypomethylation. AZT, DFO and AZT/DFO pre-treatment significantly enhanced extracellular matrix collagen production and mineralisation in hBMSCs. EVs derived from AZT/DFO-preconditioned hBMSCs (AZT/DFO-EVs) enhanced the hBMSC proliferation, histone acetylation and hypomethylation when compared to EVs derived from AZT-treated, DFO-treated and untreated hBMSCs. Importantly, AZT/DFO-EVs significantly increased osteogenic differentiation and mineralisation of a secondary hBMSC population. Furthermore, AZT/DFO-EVs enhanced the pro-angiogenic cytokine release of HUVECs. Taken together, our findings demonstrate the considerable utility of synergistically inducing hypomethylation and hypoxia to improve the therapeutic efficacy of the MSC-EVs as a cell-free approach for bone regeneration.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7564
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2023


  • bone
  • epigenetics
  • extracellular vesicles
  • tissue engineering
  • methylation
  • hypoxia
  • stem cells


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