Homing and Differentiation of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in 3D In Vitro Models

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Virginia Tech


Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have great potential to improve clinical outcomes for many inflammatory and degenerative diseases through delivery of exogenous MSCs via injection or cell-laden scaffolds and through mobilization and migration of endogenous MSCs to injury sites. MSC fate and function is determined by microenvironmental cues, specifically dimensionality, topography, and cell-cell interactions. MSC responses of migration and differentiation are the focus of this dissertation. Cell migration occurs in several physiological and pathological processes; migration mode and cell signaling are determined by the environment and type of confinement in three-dimensional (3D) models.

Tendon injury is a common musculoskeletal disorder that occurs through cumulative damage to the extracellular matrix (ECM). Studies combining nanofibrous scaffolds and MSCs to determine an optimal topographical environment have promoted tenogenic differentiation under various conditions. We investigated cellular response of MSCs on specifically designed nanofiber matrices fabricated using a novel spinneret-based tunable engineered parameters production method (STEP). We designed suspended and aligned nanofiber scaffolds to study cellular morphology, tendon marker gene expression, and matrix deposition as determinants for tendon differentiation.

The delivery and maintenance of MSCs at sites of inflammation or injury are major challenges in stem cell therapies. Enhancing stem cell homing could improve their therapeutic effects. Homing is a process that involves cell migration through the vasculature to target organs. This process is defined in leukocyte transendothelial migration (TEM); however, far less is known about MSC homing. We investigated two population subsets of MSCs in a Transwell system mimicking the vasculature; migrated cells that initiated transmigration on the endothelium and nonmigrated cells in the apical chamber that failed to transmigrate. Gene and protein expression changes were observed between these subsets and evidence suggests that multiple signaling pathways regulate TEM.

The results of these experiments have demonstrated that microenvironmental cues are critical to understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of MSC response, specifically in homing and differentiation. This knowledge has identified scaffold parameters required to stimulate tenogenesis and signaling pathways controlling MSC homing. These findings will allow us to target key regulatory molecules and cell signaling pathways involved in MSC response towards development of regenerative therapies.



mesenchymal stem cells, regenerative medicine, differentiation, tendon, scaffolds, stem cell homing