Pralatrexate Sustainably Released from Polypeptide Thermogel Is Effective for Chondrogenic Differentiation of Mesenchymal Stem Cells

Yejin Woo, Madhumita Patel, Hyelin Kim, Jin Kyung Park, Yeon Ju Jung, Sun Shin Cha, Byeongmoon Jeong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Folic acid was reported to significantly improve chondrogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells. In a similar mechanism of action, we investigated clinically approved antifolates by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as chondrogenic-promoting compounds for tonsil-derived mesenchymal stem cells. A poly(ethylene glycol)-poly(l-alanine) thermogelling system was used as a three-dimensional cell culture matrix, where stem cells and antifolates could be incorporated simultaneously during a heat-induced in situ sol-to-gel transition. The antifolates could be supplied over several days by the sustained release of the drug from the thermogel. Initially, seven antifolates were prescreened based on cell viability and expression of a typical chondrogenic biomarker of type II collagen (COL II) at the mRNA level. Then, dapsone, pralatrexate, and trimethoprim were selected as candidate compounds in the second round screening, and detailed studies were carried out on the mRNA and protein expression of various chondrogenic biomarkers including COL II, SRY box transcription factor 9, and aggrecan. Three-dimensional cultures of stem cells in the thermogel in the absence of a chondrogenic promoter compound and in the presence of kartogenin (KGN) were performed as a negative control and positive control, respectively. The chondrogenic biomarkers were significantly increased in the selected antifolate-incorporating systems compared to the negative control system, without an increase in type I collagen (an osteogenic biomarker) expression. Pralatrexate was the best compound for inducing chondrogenic differentiation of the stem cells, even better than the positive control (KGN). Nuclear translocation of the core-binding factor β subunit (CBFβ) and enhanced nuclear runt-related transcription factor 1 (RUNX1) by antifolate treatment suggested that the chondrogenesis-enhancing mechanism is mediated by CBFβ and RUNX1. An in silico modeling study confirmed the mechanism by proving the high binding affinity of pralatrexate to a target protein of filamin A compared with other antifolate candidates. To conclude, pralatrexate was rediscovered as a lead compound, and the polypeptide thermogel incorporating pralatrexate and mesenchymal stem cells can be a very effective system in promoting chondrogenic differentiation of stem cells and might be used in injectable tissue engineering for cartilage repair.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3773-3783
Number of pages11
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number3
StatePublished - 26 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

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© 2022 American Chemical Society


  • 3D culture
  • CBFβ
  • chondrogenic differentiation
  • in silico model
  • pralatrexate
  • thermogel


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