Schwann cells and mesenchymal stem cells as promoter of peripheral nerve regeneration

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå universitet

Abstract: The transplantation of primary Schwann cells (SC) has been shown to improve nerve regeneration. However, to monitor the survival of transplanted cells within the host, a stable labelling method is required. The in vitro characteristics of green fluorescent protein labelled SC (GFP SC) and their effects in an in vivo peripheral nerve injury model were investigated.   The GFP-SC were readily visualised ex vivo and stimulated significantly better axonal regeneration compared to controls. Clinical use of autologous SC for the treatment of nerve injuries is of limited use due to difficulty in obtaining clinically useful numbers. However, bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) can trans-differentiate into SC like cells (dMSC). The in vitro and in vivo differentiation of MSC was explored, and the study extended to include the easily-accessible adipose stem cells (ASC).  In vitro, glial growth factor stimulated MSC express S100, a SC marker, and its expression is maintained following in vivo transplantation.  Similarly, untreated MSC transplanted in vivo also expressed S100, which indicates glial differentiation in response to local cytokines and growth factors. Using an in vitro model, comprising dMSC or dASC co-cultured with adult dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons, the capacity of the dMSC and SC like differentiated ASC (dASC) to promote axon myelination was verified: both cell types expressed transcripts for protein zero, peripheral myelin protein-22 and myelin basic protein.The potential of stem cells in nerve repair may be limited by innate cellular senescence or donor age affecting cell functionality thus it was essential to determine the effects of donor age on morphology and functionality of stem cells.  The proliferation rates, expression of senescence markers (p38 and p53) and the stimulation of neurite outgrowth from DRG neurons by stem cells isolated from neonatal, young or old rats were very similar. However, the distribution and ultrastructure of mitochondria in dMSC and dASC from young and old rats were quite different, and seem to indicate physiological senescence of the aged cells.  Given the wide-ranging influence of Notch signalling in cell differentiation, including the neural crest to a glial cell type switch, and self-renewal in mammals, its role in the differentiation of stem cells to SC was investigated. The mRNA for notch-1 and -2 receptors were expressed in the dASC, blockage of notch signaling did not affect the neurotrophic and myelination potential of dASC. In conclusion, these findings show that GFP labelling has no deleterious effect on SC survival and function. MSC and ASC differentiated into glial-type cells acquire SC morphology, and express characteristic SC markers, and the differentiation process was independent of the Notch signaling pathway. Also, following transplantation into a nerve gap injury dMSC improve regeneration. This study established that following co-culture with DRG neurons, dMSC and dASC were able to express peripheral myelin proteins.  Also, the functional bioactivity of these cells is independent of the donor animal age. Finally, although the glial lineage differentiated aged cells characterized in this study expressed markers typical of senescence they retained the potential to support axon regeneration.