Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (BM-MSCs) in culture are derived from BM stromal cells or skeletal stem cells. Whereas MSCs have been exploited in clinical medicine, the identification of MSC-specific markers has been limited. Here, we report that a cell surface and secreted protein, Meflin, is expressed in cultured MSCs, fibroblasts and pericytes, but not other types of cells including epithelial, endothelial and smooth muscle cells. In vivo, Meflin is expressed by immature osteoblasts and chondroblasts. In addition, Meflin is found on stromal cells distributed throughout the BM, and on pericytes and perivascular cells in multiple organs. Meflin maintains the undifferentiated state of cultured MSCs and is downregulated upon their differentiation, consistent with the observation that Meflin-deficient mice exhibit increased number of osteoblasts and accelerated bone development. In the bone and BM, Meflin is more highly expressed in primitive stromal cells that express platelet-derived growth factor receptor α and Sca-1 than the Sca-1-negative adipo-osteogenic progenitors, which create a niche for hematopoiesis. Those results are consistent with a decrease in the number of clonogenic colony-forming unit-fibroblasts within the BM of Meflin-deficient mice. These preliminary data suggest that Meflin is a potential marker for cultured MSCs and their source cells in vivo.
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