Tendon disease has been treated with multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) in the equine large-animal model with promising success. The aim of this study was to gain more insight into the fate and biodistribution of MSCs after local application into tendon lesions by long-term
cell tracking in this large-animal model. Superficial digital flexor tendon lesions were induced in all limbs in six horses and injected with 10 × 106 Molday ION Rhodamine B™-labeled MSCs suspended in serum or serum alone. Follow-up was performed using
low-field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), flow cytometry, and histology. Cell tracking based on the hypointense artifacts induced by the superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO) labeling agent in MRI as well as based on Rhodamine B fluorescence was feasible. However, Prussian blue staining for
assessment of histology was not entirely specific for SPIO. Labeled cells could be traced at their injection site by MRI as well as histology for the whole follow-up period of 24 weeks. Although the numbers of labeled cells within the injected tendon lesions decreased over time, part of the
applied cells appeared to remain viable and integrated within the injured tissue. Furthermore, small numbers of labeled cells were identified in peripheral blood within the first 24 h after cell injection and could also be found until week 24 within the contralateral control tendon lesions
that had been injected with serum. The present findings unveil details on MSC biodistribution and persistence after their local application, which are of clinical relevance with regard to MSC safety and mechanisms of action.
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