Introduction: Stem cells have the ability to self-renew or to differentiate into numerous cell types; however, our understanding of how to control and exploit this potential is currently limited. An emerging hypothesis is that microRNAs (miRNAs) play a central role in controlling stem cell-fate determination. Herein, we have characterized the effects of miRNAs in differentiated human neural stem cells (hNSCs) by using a cell line currently being tested in clinical trials for stroke disability (NCT01151124, Clinicaltrials.gov).
Methods: HNSCs were differentiated on 2- (2D) and 3-dimensional (3D) cultures for 1 and 3 weeks. Quantification of hNSC differentiation was measured with real-time PCR and axon outgrowth. The miRNA PCR arrays were implemented to investigate differential expression profiles in differentiated hNSCs. Evaluation of miRNA effects on hNSCs was performed by using transfection of miRNA mimics, real-time PCR, Western blot, and immunocytochemistry.
Results: The 3D substrate promoted enhanced hNSC differentiation coupled with a loss of cell proliferation. Differentiated hNSCs exhibited a similar miRNA profiling. However, in 3D samples, the degree and timing of regulation were significantly different in miRNA members of cluster mi-R17 and miR-96-182, and hsa-miR-302a. Overall, hNSC 3D cultures demonstrated differential regulation of miRNAs involved in hNSC stemness, cell proliferation, and differentiation. The miRNA mimic analysis of hsa-miR-146b-5p and hsa-miR-99a confirmed induction of lineage-committed progenitors. Downregulated miRNAs were more abundant; those most significantly downregulated were selected, and their putative target mRNAs analyzed with the aim of unraveling their functionality. In differentiated hNSCs, downregulated hsa-miR-96 correlated with SOX5 upregulation of gene and protein expression; similar results were obtained for hsa-miR-302a, hsa-miR-182, hsa-miR-7, hsa-miR-20a/b, and hsa-miR-17 and their target NR4A3. Moreover, SOX5 was identified as a direct target gene of hsa-miR-96, and NR43A, a direct target of hsa-miR-7 and hsa-mir-17 by luciferase reporter assays. Therefore, the regulatory role of these miRNAs may occur through targeting NR4A3 and SOX5, both reported as modulators of cell-cycle progression and axon length.
Conclusions: The results provide new insight into the identification of specific miRNAs implicated in hNSC differentiation. These strategies may be exploited to optimize in vitro hNSC differentiation potential for use in preclinical studies and future clinical applications.