Tryptophan and kynurenine enhances the stemness and osteogenic differentiation of bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stromal cells in vitro and in vivo

Hai Thanh Pham, Mitsuaki Ono, Emilio Satoshi Hara, Ha Thi Thu Nguyen, Anh Tuan Dang, Hang Thuy Do, Taishi Komori, Ikue Tosa, Yuri Hazehara-Kunitomo, Yuya Yoshioka, Yasutaka Oida, Kentaro Akiyama, Takuo Kuboki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Aging tissues present a progressive decline in homeostasis and regenerative capacities, which has been associated with degenerative changes in tissue-specific stem cells and stem cell niches. We hypothesized that amino acids could regulate the stem cell phenotype and differentiation ability of human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (hBMSCs). Thus, we performed a screening of 22 standard amino acids and found that D-tryptophan (10 µM) increased the number of cells positive for the early stem cell marker SSEA-4, and the gene expression levels of OCT-4, NANOG, and SOX-2 in hBMSCs. Comparison between D-and L-tryptophan isomers showed that the latter presents a stronger effect in inducing the mRNA levels of Oct-4 and Nanog, and in increasing the osteogenic differentiation of hBMSCs. On the other hand, L-tryptophan suppressed adipogenesis. The migration and colony-forming ability of hBMSCs were also enhanced by L-tryptophan treatment. In vivo experiments delivering L-tryptophan (50 mg/kg/day) by intraperitoneal injections for three weeks confirmed that L-tryptophan significantly increased the percentage of cells positive for SSEA-4, mRNA levels of Nanog and Oct-4, and the migration and colony-forming ability of mouse BMSCs. L-kynurenine, a major metabolite of L-tryptophan, also induced similar effects of L-tryptophan in enhancing stemness and osteogenic differentiation of BMSCs in vitro and in vivo, possibly indicating the involvement of the kynurenine pathway as the downstream signaling of L-tryptophan. Finally, since BMSCs migrate to the wound healing site to promote bone healing, surgical defects of 1 mm in diameter were created in mouse femur to evaluate bone formation after two weeks of L-tryptophan or L-kynurenine injection. Both L-tryptophan and L-kynurenine accelerated bone healing compared to the PBS-injected control group. In summary, L-tryptophan enhanced the stemness and osteoblastic differentiation of BMSCs and may be used as an essential factor to maintain the stem cell properties and accelerate bone healing and/or prevent bone loss.

Original languageEnglish
Article number208
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2021


  • Adipogenesis
  • Amino acid
  • Anabolics
  • Injury/fracture healing
  • Kynurenine
  • Mesenchymal stromal cells
  • Osteogenesis
  • Screening
  • Stemness
  • Tryptophan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Tryptophan and kynurenine enhances the stemness and osteogenic differentiation of bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stromal cells in vitro and in vivo'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this