Theobromine Upregulates Osteogenesis by Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells In Vitro and Accelerates Bone Development in Rats

Bret H. Clough, Joni Ylostalo, Elizabeth Browder, Eoin P. McNeill, Thomas J. Bartosh, H. Ralph Rawls, Tetsuo Nakamoto, Carl A. Gregory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Theobromine (THB) is one of the major xanthine-like alkaloids found in cacao plant and a variety of other foodstuffs such as tea leaves, guarana and cola nuts. Historically, THB and its derivatives have been utilized to treat cardiac and circulatory disorders, drug-induced nephrotoxicity, proteinuria and as an immune-modulator. Our previous work demonstrated that THB has the capacity to improve the formation of hydroxyl-apatite during tooth development, suggesting that it may also enhance skeletal development. With its excellent safety profile and resistance to pharmacokinetic elimination, we reasoned that it might be an excellent natural osteoanabolic supplement during pregnancy, lactation and early postnatal growth. To determine whether THB had an effect on human osteoprogenitors, we subjected primary human bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) to osteogenic assays after exposure to THB in vitro and observed that THB exposure increased the rate of osteogenesis and mineralization by hMSCs. Moreover, THB exposure resulted in a list of upregulated mRNA transcripts that best matched an osteogenic tissue expression signature as compared to other tissue expression signatures archived in several databases. To determine whether oral administration of THB resulted in improved skeletal growth, we provided pregnant rats with chow supplemented with THB during pregnancy and lactation. After weaning, offspring received THB continuously until postnatal day 50 (approximately 10 mg kg−1 day−1). Administration of THB resulted in neonates with larger bones, and 50-day-old offspring accumulated greater body mass, longer and thicker femora and superior tibial trabecular parameters. The accelerated growth did not adversely affect the strength and resilience of the bones. These results indicate that THB increases the osteogenic potential of bone marrow osteoprogenitors, and dietary supplementation of a safe dose of THB to expectant mothers and during the postnatal period could accelerate skeletal development in their offspring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)298-310
Number of pages13
JournalCalcified tissue international
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Anabolics
  • Nutrition
  • Preclinical studies
  • Stromal/stem cells
  • Theobromine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Endocrinology


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