BackgroundMesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are attracting increasing interest for cell-based therapies, making use of both their immuno-modulating and regenerative potential. For such therapeutic applications, a massive in vitro expansion of donor cells is usually necessary to furnish sufficient material for transplantation. It is not established to what extent the long-term genomic stability and potency of MSCs can be compromised as a result of this rapid ex vivo expansion. In this study, we investigated the DNA damage response and chromosomal stability (indicated by micronuclei induction) after sub-lethal doses of gamma irradiation in murine MSCs at different stages of their in vitro expansion.MethodsBone-marrow-derived tri-potent MSCs were explanted from 3-month-old female FVB/N mice and expanded in vitro for up to 12weeks. DNA damage response and repair kinetics after gamma irradiation were quantified by the induction of gamma H2AX/53BP1 DSB repair foci. Micronuclei were counted in post-mitotic, binucleated cells using an automated image analyzer Metafer4. Involvement of DNA damage response pathways was tested using chemical ATM and DNA-PK inhibitors.ResultsMurine bone-marrow-derived MSCs in long-term expansion culture gradually lose their ability to recognize endogenous and radiation-induced DNA double-strand breaks. This impaired DNA damage response, indicated by a decrease in the number of gamma H2AX/53BP1 DSB repair foci, was associated with reduced ATM dependency of foci formation, a slower DNA repair kinetics, and an increased number of residual DNA double-strand breaks 7h post irradiation. In parallel with this impaired efficiency of DNA break recognition and repair in older MSCs, chromosomal instability after mitosis increased significantly as shown by a higher number of micronuclei, both spontaneously and induced by gamma-irradiation. Multifactorial regression analysis demonstrates that in vitro aging reduced DNA damage recognition in MSCs after irradiation by a multiplicative interaction with dose (p<0.0001), whereas the increased frequency of micronuclei was caused by an additive interaction between in vitro aging and radiation dose.ConclusionThe detrimental impact of long-term in vitro expansion on DNA damage response of MSCs warrants a regular monitoring of this process during the ex vivo growth of these cells to improve therapeutic safety and efficiency.