The present study investigated whether alginate (Alg) hydrogel microbeads have a role in maintaining mouse bone marrow stromal ST-2 cells and release the cells after being stimulated by synthetic octacalcium phosphate (OCP), which is a mineral crystal capable of stimulating osteoblastic differentiation during a conversion process to hydroxyapatite (HA). The ST-2 cell suspension in the alginate solution, which contained various concentrations of OCP granules with diameters less than 53 μm, was extruded drop-wise into a stirred gelation solution containing BaCl2 using an encapsulator with nitrogen gas stream. The Alg-microbeads (Alg/OCP • ST-2 microbeads) that were generated, which had a diameter of approximately 400 μm, were incubated for up to 14 d and then assessed for osteoblastic differentiation. Alg-microbeads with cells were also incubated to identify the possible conversion from OCP to HA. Osteoblast differentiation markers in ST-2 cells, alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and collagen type I, were up-regulated in the presence of higher amounts of OCP. X-ray diffraction analysis and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy confirmed that the OCP tended to convert to HA over time, suggesting that the OCP in Alg-microbeads interacts three-dimensionally with ST-2 cells and stimulates its osteoblastic differentiation. The release of ST-2 cells from the microbeads was also estimated. ST-2 cells were identified outside of the microbeads, although the cell number tended to decrease with increasing OCP. These results suggest that Alg/OCP microbeads could be used as a vehicle to activate osteoblastic cells and deliver them to sites where bone regeneration is needed.
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