Assessing the quality of tissue engineered (TE) cartilage has historically been performed by endpoint measurements including marker gene expression. Until the adoption of promoter-driven reporter constructs capable of quantitative and real time non-destructive expression analysis, temporal gene expression assessments along a timeline could not be performed on TE constructs. We further exploit this technique to utilize microRNA (miRNA or miR) through the use of firefly luciferase reporter (Luc) containing a 3’ UTR perfect complementary target sequence to the mature miR-145-5p. We report the development and testing of a firefly luciferase (Luc) reporter responsive to miR-145-5p for longitudinal tracking of miR-145-5p expression throughout MSC chondrogenic differentiation.
Plasmid reporter vectors containing a miR-145-5p responsive reporter (Luc reporter with a perfect complementary target sequence to the mature miR-145-5p sequence in the 3’UTR), a Luc reporter driven by a truncated Sox9 (one of the targets of miR-145-5p) promoter, or the Luc backbone (control) vector without a specific miRNA target were transfected into MSCs by electroporation. Transfected MSCs were mixed with untransfected MSC to generate chondrogenic pellets. Pellets were imaged by bioluminescent imaging (BLI) and harvested along a preset time line.
The imaging signals from miR-145-5p responsive reporter and Sox9 promoter-driven reporter showed correlated time-courses (measured by BLI and normalized to Luc-control reporter; Spearman r=0.93, p=0.0002) during MSC chondrogenic differentiation. Expression analysis by qRT-PCR suggests an inverse relationship between miR-145-5p and Sox9 gene expression during MSC chondrogenic differentiation.
Non-destructive cell-pellet imaging is capable of supplementing histological analyses to characterize TE cartilage. The miR-145-5p responsive reporter is relatively simple to construct and generates a consistent imaging signal responsive to miR-145-5p during MSC chondrogenesis in parallel to certain molecular and cellular events.