Introduction: Congenital muscular dystrophies (CMD) are a clinically and genetically heterogeneous group of neuromuscular disorders characterized by muscle weakness within the first two years of life. Collagen VI-related muscle disorders have recently emerged as one of the most common types of CMD. COL6 CMD is caused by deficiency and/or dysfunction of extracellular matrix (ECM) protein collagen VI. Currently, there is no specific treatment for this disabling and life-threatening disease. The primary cellular targets for collagen VI CMD therapy are fibroblasts in muscle, tendon and skin, as opposed to muscle cells for other types of muscular dystrophies. However, recent advances in stem cell research have raised the possibility that use of adult stem cells may provide dramatic new therapies for treatment of COL6 CMD.
Methods: Here, we developed a procedure for isolation of human stem cells from the adipose layer of neonatal skin. The adipose-derived stem cells (ADSC) were examined for expression of ECM and related genes using gene expression array analysis. The therapeutic potential of ADSC was assessed after a single intramuscular transplantation in collagen VI-deficient mice.
Results: Analysis of primary cultures confirmed that established ADSC represent a morphologically homogenous population with phenotypic and functional features of adult mesenchymal stem cells. A comprehensive gene expression analysis showed that ADSC express a vast array of ECM genes. Importantly, it was observed that ADSC synthesize and secrete all three collagen VI chains, suggesting suitability of ADSC for COL6 CMD treatment. Furthermore, we have found that a single intramuscular transplantation of ADSC into Col6a1-/-Rag1-/- mice under physiological and cardiotoxin-induced injury/regeneration conditions results in efficient engraftment and migration of stem cells within the skeletal muscle. Importantly, we showed that ADSC can survive long-term and continuously secrete the therapeutic collagen VI protein missing in the mutant mice.
Conclusions: Overall, our findings suggest that stem cell therapy can potentially provide a new avenue for the treatment of COL6 CMD and other muscular disorders and injuries.