The cells called osteochondroreticular (OCR) stem cells were discovered by tracking a protein expressed by the cells. Using this marker, Mukherjee and his team found that OCR cells self-renew and generate key bone and cartilage cells.

The team also showed that OCR stem cells, when transplanted to a fracture site, contribute to bone repair. The researchers believe OCR stem cells are present in human bone tissue as mice and humans have similar bone biology.

"If you make a fracture in the mouse, these cells will come alive again, generate both bone and cartilage in the mouse and repair the fracture. The question is, could this happen in humans," asked Mukherjee, assistant professor of medicine.

Further study could provide greater understanding of how to prevent and treat osteoporosis, osteoarthritis or bone fractures. The researchers also suspect that OCR cells may play a role in soft tissue cancers. The paper was reported online in the journal Cell.

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