Examining the Potency of Subacromial Bursal Cells as a Potential Augmentation for Rotator Cuff Healing: An In Vitro Study

Published:October 16, 2019DOI:


      To compare the potency of mesenchymal stem cells between the cells derived from the subacromial bursa to concentrated bone marrow aspirate (cBMA) taken from patients undergoing rotator cuff (RC) repair.


      Subacromial bursa and cBMA were harvested arthroscopically from 13 patients (age 57.4 ± 5.2 years, mean ± standard deviation) undergoing arthroscopic primary RC repair. Bone marrow was aspirated from the proximal humerus and concentrated using an automated system (Angel System; Arthrex). Subacromial bursa was collected from 2 sites (over the RC tendon and muscle) and digested with collagenase to isolate a single cellular fraction. Proliferation, number of colony-forming units, differentiation potential, and gene expression were compared among the cells derived from each specimen.


      The cells derived from subacromial bursa showed significantly higher proliferation compared with the cells derived from cBMA after 5, 7, and 10 days (P = .018). Regarding colony-forming units, the subacromial bursa had significantly more colonies than cBMA (P = .002). Subacromial bursal cells over the RC tendon produced significantly more colonies than cells over both the RC muscle and cBMA (P = .033 and P = .028, respectively). Moreover, when compared with cBMA, cells derived from subacromial bursa showed significantly higher differentiation ability and higher gene expression indicative of chondrogenesis, osteogenesis, and adipogenesis.


      The subacromial bursa is an easily accessible tissue that can be obtained during RC repair, with significant pluripotent stem cell potency for tendon healing. Compared with cBMA taken from the proximal humerus, bursal cells showed significantly increased differentiation ability and gene expression over time.

      Clinical Relevance

      Failed RC repairs have been partly attributed to a poor healing environment. Biologic augmentation of the repair site may help increase healing potential and incorporation of the cuff at the tendon–bone interface.
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      Linked Article

      • Editorial Commentary: Subacromial Bursa—Friend or Foe Within The Shoulder? An Old Debate With New Insights
        ArthroscopyVol. 35Issue 11
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          There is an ongoing debate about whether to resect or preserve the subacromial bursa during surgical treatment of rotator cuff tears. Neer was the first to systematically describe bursitis as a component of subacromial impingement syndrome that may extend to rotator cuff disease, often discussed as a point of controversy with Uhthoff who first identified the bursa as a contributor to rotator cuff healing, both experimentally and clinically. Because the subacromial bursa provides the gliding mechanism of the shoulder and regenerates itself after surgical removal, interest evolved on the role of the bursa in the healing of rotator cuff tears for evolution of regenerative therapies as a support of arthroscopic repair techniques.
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