Author(s): Peng J
Cell-based therapy has achieved promising functional recovery for peripheral nerve repair. Although Schwann cells (SCs) and bone marrow derived mesenchymal stromal cells (BM-MSCs) are the main cell source for nerve tissue engineering, the clinical application is limited because of donor site morbidity, the invasive procedure, and the decreased number of SCs and BM-MSCs. Wharton's jelly-derived mesenchymal stem cells (WJMSCs) could be a promising cell source for nerve tissue engineering because they are easily accessible and their use has no ethical issues. We investigated the phenotypic, molecular and functional characteristics of WJMSCs differentiated along a Schwann-cell lineage. Cultured WJMSCs were isolated from human umbilical cord, and the undifferentiated WJMSCs were confirmed by the detection of MSC-specific cell-surface markers. WJMSCs treated with a mixture of glial growth factors (basic fibroblast growth factor, platelet-derived growth factor and forskolin) adopted a spindle-like morphology similar to SCs. Immunocytochemical staining, RT-PCR analysis, and Western blot analysis revealed that the treated cells expressed the glial markers glial fibrillary acidic protein, p75, S100 and P0 and indicative of differentiation. On co-culture with dorsal root ganglia neurons, the differentiated WJMSCs enhanced the number of sprouting neurites and neurite length in dorsal root ganglia neurons. Furthermore, using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and RT-PCR methodology, we found differentiated WJMSCs secrete and express neurotrophic factors, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), nerve growth factor (NGF), and neurotrophin-3 (NT-3). Quantification of neurite outgrowth from PC12 cells grown in differentiated WJMSCs-conditioned media demonstrates that the neurite length is significantly more than control medium and undifferentiated WJMSCs group. WJMSCs can be differentiated into cells that are Schwann-like in terms of morphologic features, phenotype, and function and could be suitable Schwann-cell substitutes for nerve repair in clinical applications.