Int J Biol Sci 2020; 16(4):655-670. doi:10.7150/ijbs.38713

Research Paper

Silencing MicroRNA-137-3p, which Targets RUNX2 and CXCL12 Prevents Steroid-induced Osteonecrosis of the Femoral Head by Facilitating Osteogenesis and Angiogenesis

Lingchi Kong*, Rongtai Zuo*, Mengwei Wang, Wenbo Wang, Jia Xu, Yimin Chai, Junjie Guan, Qinglin Kang

Department of Orthopedic surgery, Shanghai Jiao Tong University Affiliated Sixth People's Hospital, Shanghai 200233, P.R. China
*Lingchi Kong and Rongtai Zuo contributed equally to this article.

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Kong L, Zuo R, Wang M, Wang W, Xu J, Chai Y, Guan J, Kang Q. Silencing MicroRNA-137-3p, which Targets RUNX2 and CXCL12 Prevents Steroid-induced Osteonecrosis of the Femoral Head by Facilitating Osteogenesis and Angiogenesis. Int J Biol Sci 2020; 16(4):655-670. doi:10.7150/ijbs.38713. Available from

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The main pathogenesis of steroid-induced osteonecrosis of the femoral head (SONFH) includes decreased osteogenic capacity of bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (BMSCs) and damaged blood supply to the femoral head. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have been shown to play prominent roles in SONFH development. However, there is no report that a specific miRNA targeting two genes in two different pathogenic pathways has been applied to this disease. The present study investigated the effects of transplantation of miR-137-3p-silenced BMSCs on the prevention and early treatment of SONFH. First, western blotting and dual luciferase assays were employed to verify that miR-137-3p directly targets Runx2 and CXCL12. Then, silencing of miR-137-3p was found to facilitate osteogenic differentiation of BMSCs, which was confirmed by alkaline phosphatase (ALP) staining, alizarin red staining and qRT-PCR. Silencing of miR-137-3p also promoted angiogenesis by human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) in the presence or absence of glucocorticoids. Thereafter, overexpression of Runx2 and CXCL12 without the 3′ untranslated region (3′UTR) partially rescued the effects of miR-137-3p on osteogenesis and angiogenesis, respectively. This finding further supported the hypothesis that miR-137-3p exerts its functions partly by regulating the genes, Runx2 and CXCL12. We also demonstrated that SONFH was partially prevented by transplantation of miR-137-3p-silenced BMSCs into a rat model. Micro-CT and histology showed that the transplantation of miR-137-3p-silenced BMSCs significantly improved bone regeneration. Additionally, the results of enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) and flow cytometry suggested that stromal cell-derived factor-1α (SDF-1α) and endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) participated in the process of vascular repair. Taken together, these findings show that silencing of miR-137-3p directly targets the genes, Runx2 and CXCL12, which can play critical roles in SONFH repair by facilitating osteogenic differentiation and mobilizing EPCs.

Keywords: steroid-induced osteonecrosis of the femoral head, miR-137-3p, bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells, CXCL12 (SDF-1α), Runx2, endothelial progenitor cells