Non-genetic induction of somatic cells into neural crest stem-like cells (NCSCs) is promising for potential cell-based therapies for post-traumatic peripheral nerve regeneration. Here, we report that human gingiva-derived mesenchymal stem cells (GMSCs) could be reproducibly and readily induced into NCSCs via non-genetic approaches. Compared to parental GMSCs, induced NCSC population had increased expression in NCSC-related genes and displayed robust differentiation into neuronal and Schwann-like cells. Knockdown of the expression of Yes-associated protein 1 (YAP1), a critical mechanosensor and mechanotransducer, attenuated the expression of NCSC-related genes; specific blocking of RhoA/ROCK activity and non-muscle myosin II (NM II)-dependent contraction suppressed YAP1 and NCSC-related genes and concurrently abolished neural spheroid formation in NCSCs. Using a rat model of facial nerve defect, implantation of NCSC-laden nerve conduits promoted functional regeneration of the injured nerve. These promising findings demonstrate that induced NCSCs derived from GMSCs represent an easily accessible and promising source of neural stem-like cells for peripheral nerve regeneration.
Keywords: Facial nerve regeneration; Gingiva-derived mesenchymal stem cells; Neural crest stem cells; RhoA/ROCK; YAP1.