Exosomes as potential alternatives to stem cell therapy

The stem cell-based therapies for intervertebral disc degeneration have been widely studied. However, the mechanisms of mesenchymal stem cells interacting with intervertebral disc cells, such as nucleus pulposus cells (NPCs), remain unknown. Exosomes as a vital paracrine mechanism in cell-cell communication have been highly focused on. Researchers from the Third Military Medical University set out to detect the role of exosomes derived from bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (BM-MSCs) and NPCs in their interaction with corresponding cells.

The exosomes secreted by BM-MSCs and NPCs were purified by differential centrifugation and identified by transmission electron microscope and immunoblot analysis of exosomal marker proteins. Fluorescence confocal microscopy was used to examine the uptake of exosomes by recipient cells. The effects of NPC exosomes on the migration and differentiation of BM-MSCs were determined by transwell migration assays and quantitative RT-PCR analysis of NPC phenotypic genes. Western blot analysis was performed to examine proteins such as aggrecan, sox-9, collagen II and hif-1α in the induced BM-MSCs. Proliferation and the gene expression profile of NPCs induced by BM-MSC exosomes were measured by Cell Counting Kit-8 and qRT-PCR analysis, respectively.

Both the NPCs and BM-MSCs secreted exosomes, and these exosomes underwent uptake by the corresponding cells. NPC-derived exosomes promoted BM-MSC migration and induced BM-MSC differentiation to a nucleus pulposus-like phenotype. BM-MSC-derived exosomes promoted NPC proliferation and healthier extracellular matrix production in the degenerate NPCs.

Reciprocal uptake of exosomes by BM-MSCs and NPCs. BM-MSCs and NPCs were respectively incubated with PKH67-labeled exosomes for 4 hours and were observed with a fluorescence confocal microscope. Green, PKH67 fluorescence; red, phalloidine blue; DAPI-stained nuclei. Exosomes were absorbed by responding cells. BM-MSC bone marrow mesenchymal stem cell, Exo exosomes, NPC nucleus pulposus cell

This study indicates that the exosomes act as an important vehicle in information exchange between BM-MSCs and NPCs. Given a variety of functions and multiple advantages, exosomes alone or loaded with specific genes and drugs would be an appropriate option in a cell-free therapy strategy for intervertebral disc degeneration.

Lu K, Li HY, Yang K, Wu JL, Cai XW, Zhou Y, Li CQ. (2017) Exosomes as potential alternatives to stem cell therapy for intervertebral disc degeneration: in-vitro study on exosomes in interaction of nucleus pulposus cells and bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells. Stem Cell Res Ther 8(1):108. [article]

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