Background: The two most basic properties of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are the capacities to self-renew indefinitely and differentiate into multiple cells and tissue types. The cells from human umbilical cord Wharton's Jelly have properties of MSCs and represent a rich source of primitive cells. This study was conducted to explore the possibility of inducing human umbilical cord Wharton's Jelly-derived MSCs to differentiate into nerve-like cells.
Methods: MSCs were cultured from the Wharton's Jelly taken from human umbilical cord of babies delivered after full-term normal labor. Salvia miltiorrhiza and beta-mercaptoethanol were used to induce the human umbilical cord-derived MSCs to differentiate. The expression of neural protein markers was shown by immunocytochemistry. The induction process was monitored by phase contrast microscopy, electron microscopy (EM), and laser scanning confocal microscopy (LSCM). The pleiotrophin and nestin genes were measured by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).
Results: MSCs in the Wharton's Jelly were easily attainable and could be maintained and expanded in culture. They were positive for markers of MSCs, but negative for markers of hematopoietic cells and graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)-related cells. Treatment with Salvia miltiorrhiza caused Wharton's Jelly cells to undergo profound morphological changes. The induced MSCs developed rounded cell bodies with multiple neurite-like extensions. Eventually they developed processes that formed networks reminiscent of primary cultures of neurons. Salvia miltiorrhiza and beta-mercaptoethanol also induced MSCs to express nestin, beta-tubulinIII, neurofilament (NF) and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). It was confirmed by RT-PCR that MSCs could express pleiotrophin both before and after induction by Salvia miltiorrhiza. The expression was markedly enhanced after induction and the nestin gene was also expressed.
Conclusions: MSCs could be isolated from human umbilical cord Wharton's Jelly. They were capable of differentiating into nerve-like cells using Salvia miltiorrhiza or beta-mercaptoethanol. The induced MSCs not only underwent morphologic changes, but also expressed the neuron-related genes and neuronal cell markers. They may represent an alternative source of stem cells for central nervous system cell transplantation.