Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are considered to hold great therapeutic value for cell-based therapy and for tissue regeneration in particular. Recent evidence indicates that the main underlying mechanism for MSCs' beneficial effects in tissue regeneration is based on their capability to produce a large variety of bioactive trophic factors that stimulate neighboring parenchymal cells to start repairing damaged tissues. These new findings could potentially replace the classical paradigm of MSC differentiation and cell replacement. These bioactive factors have diverse actions like modulating the local immune system, enhancing angiogenesis, preventing cell apoptosis, and stimulating survival, proliferation, and differentiation of resident tissue specific cells. Therefore, MSCs are referred to as conductors of tissue repair and regeneration by secreting trophic mediators. In this review article, we have summarized the studies that focused on the trophic effects of MSC within the context of tissue regeneration. We will also highlight the various underlying mechanisms used by MSCs to act as trophic mediators. Besides the secretion of growth factors, we discuss two additional mechanisms that are likely to mediate MSC's beneficial effects in tissue regeneration, namely the production of extracellular vesicles and the formation of membrane nanotubes, which can both connect different cells and transfer a variety of trophic factors varying from proteins to mRNAs and miRNAs. Furthermore, we postulate that apoptosis of the MSCs is an integral part of the trophic effect during tissue repair.
Keywords: apoptosis; extracellular vesicles; growth factors; membrane nanotubes; mesenchymal stem cells; trophic effects.