Electrical stimulation (ES) is known to guide the development and regeneration of many tissues. However, although preclinical and clinical studies have demonstrated superior effects of ES on cartilage repair, the effects of ES on chondrogenesis remain elusive. Since mesenchyme stem cells (MSCs) have high therapeutic potential for cartilage regeneration, we investigated the actions of ES during chondrogenesis of MSCs. Herein, we demonstrate for the first time that ES enhances expression levels of chondrogenic markers, such as type II collagen, aggrecan, and Sox9, and decreases type I collagen levels, thereby inducing differentiation of MSCs into hyaline chondrogenic cells without the addition of exogenous growth factors. ES also induced MSC condensation and subsequent chondrogenesis by driving Ca2+/ATP oscillations, which are known to be essential for prechondrogenic condensation. In subsequent experiments, the effects of ES on ATP oscillations and chondrogenesis were dependent on extracellular ATP signaling via P2X4 receptors, and ES induced significant increases in TGF-β1 and BMP2 expression. However, the inhibition of TGF-β signaling blocked ES-driven condensation, whereas the inhibition of BMP signaling did not, indicating that TGF-β signaling but not BMP signaling mediates ES-driven condensation. These findings may contribute to the development of electrotherapeutic strategies for cartilage repair using MSCs.
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