A feature which makes stem cells promising candidates for cell therapy is their ability to migrate effectively into damaged or diseased tissues. Recent reports demonstrated the increased motility of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC) grown under hypoxic conditions compared to normoxic cells. However, the directional migration of hMSC cultured in hypoxia has not been investigated. In this study we examined thein vitro transmembrane migration of hMSC permanently cultured in hypoxia in response to various cytokines. We also studied the involvement of RhoA, a molecule believed to play an essential role in the migration of MSC via reorganization of the cytoskeleton.


We compared the directional migration of human hMSCs grown permanently under normal (21%, normoxic) and low O2 (5%, hypoxic) conditions until passage 4 using an in vitro transmembrane migration assay. A series of 17 cytokines was used to induce chemotaxis. We also compared the level of GTP-bound RhoA in the cell extracts of calpeptin-activated hypoxic and normoxic hMSC.


We found that hMSC cultured in hypoxia demonstrate markedly higher targeted migration activity compared to normoxic cells, particularly towards wound healing cytokines, including those found in ischemic and myocardial infarction. We also demonstrated for the first time that hMSC are dramatically more sensitive to activation of RhoA.


The results of this study indicate that high directional migration of hMSCs permanently grown in hypoxia is associated with the enhanced activation of RhoA. The enhanced migratory capacity of hypoxic hMSC would further suggest their potential advantages for clinical applications.