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A comparative study of metabolic state of stem cells during osteogenic and adipogenic differentiations via fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy

Cellular metabolic state can serve as a biomarker to indicate the differentiation potential of stem cells into other specialized cell lineages. In this study, two-photon fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (2P-FLIM) was applied to determine the fluorescence lifetime and the amounts of the auto-fluorescent metabolic co-factor reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) to elucidate the cellular metabolism of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) in osteogenic and adipogenic differentiation processes. 2P-FLIM provides the free to protein-bound NADH ratio which can serve as the indicator of cellular metabolic state. We measured NADH fluorescence lifetime at 0, 7, and 14 days after hMSCs were induced for either osteogenesis or adipogenesis. In both cases, the average fluorescence lifetime increased significantly at day 14 (P < 0.001), while the ratio of free to protein-bound NADH ratio decreased significantly in 7- days (P < 0.001) and 14-days (P < 0.001). Thus, our results indicated a higher metabolic rate in both osteogenic and adipogenic differentiation processes when compared with undifferentiated hMSCs. This approach may be further utilized to study proliferation efficiency and differentiation potential of stem cells into other specialized cell lineages.