Background and objectives: Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are used to treat autoimmune or inflammatory diseases. Our aim was to determine the immunomodulatory mechanisms elicited by MSCs during inflammation.
Methods and results: We cocultured MSCs with peripheral blood mononuclear cells for a mixed lymphocyte reaction or stimulated them by phytohemagglutinin. Morphological changes of MSCs and secretion of acetylcholine (ACh) from MSCs were measured. The effects of an ACh antagonist and ACh agonist on lymphocyte proliferation and proinflammatory-cytokine production were determined. The inflammatory milieu created by immune-cell activation caused MSCs to adopt a neuronlike phenotype and induced them to release ACh. Additionally, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) were upregulated in activated peripheral blood mononuclear cells. We observed that ACh bound to nAChR on activated immune cells and led to the inhibition of lymphocyte proliferation and of proinflammatory-cytokine production. MSC-mediated immunosuppression through ACh activity was reversed by an ACh antagonist called α-bungarotoxin, and lymphocyte proliferation was inhibited by an ACh agonist, ACh chloride.
Conclusions: Our findings point to a novel immunomodulatory mechanism in which ACh secreted by MSCs under inflammatory conditions might modulate immune cells. This study may provide a novel method for the treatment of autoimmune diseases by means of MSCs.
Keywords: Acetylcholine; Autoimmune diseases; Mesenchymal stem cells; Stem cell therapeutics.
Conflict of interest statement
The authors have no conflicting financial interest.
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