Background/Aims: Far-infrared (FIR) irradiation has been reported to exhibit various biological effects including improvement of cardiovascular function. However, its effect on the differentiation of stem cells has not been studied. Using tonsil-derived mesenchymal stem cells (TMSC), we examined whether and how FIR irradiation affects adipogenic or osteogenic differentiation. Methods: TMSC were exposed to FIR irradiation (3-25 μm wavelength) for various times (0, 30, or 60 min), and then adipogenic or osteogenic differentiation was induced for 14 days with its respective commercially available differentiation medium. At the end of the differentiation, the cells were stained using Oil red O or Alizarin red S solution, and the expression of differentiation-specific proteins was analyzed by western blotting. Results: FIR irradiation did not alter cell viability or the expression of MSC-specific surface antigens (CD14, CD34, CD45, CD73, CD90, and CD105) in TMSC. However, FIR irradiation significantly inhibited adipogenic differentiation of TMSC, as evidenced by decreased Oil red O staining as well as protein expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ and fatty acid binding protein 4. In contrast, FIR irradiation induced osteogenic differentiation, as evidenced by increased Alizarin red S staining as well as protein expression of osteocalcin and alkaline phosphatase. Treatment with heat alone did not inhibit the adipogenic differentiation of TMSC, suggesting that the inhibitory effect on adipogenic differentiation was not due to heat induced by FIR irradiation. However, heat alone did stimulate osteogenic differentiation, but to a lesser extent than FIR irradiation. Furthermore, FIR irradiation increased intracellular Ca2+ levels and the activity of protein phosphatase 2B (PP2B) in TMSC. Treatment with cyclosporin A, a specific PP2B inhibitor, reversed the inhibitory effect of FIR irradiation on adipogenic differentiation of TMSC, but had no effect on osteogenic differentiation. Conclusion: Our data demonstrate that FIR irradiation inhibits adipogenic differentiation but enhances osteogenic differentiation of TMSC; the inhibitory effect on adipogenic differentiation is non-thermal and mediated at least in part by activation of Ca2+-dependent PP2B.
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