Pharmaceutical Activation of Nrf2 Accelerates Diabetic Wound Healing by Exosomes from Bone Marrow Mesenchymal Stem Cells

Int J Stem Cells. 2022 May 30;15(2):164-172. doi: 10.15283/ijsc21067.


Background and objectives: Despite advances in wound treatments, chronic diabetic wounds remain a significant medical challenge. Exosomes from mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and small molecule activators of nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) have emerged as potential therapies for nonhealing diabetic wounds. This study aimed to evaluate the effects of exosomes from bone marrow-derived MSCs (BMSCs) alone, or in combination with a small molecule activator of Nrf2 on diabetic wound healing.

Methods and results: BMSCs and endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) were isolated from the femur and tibia bone marrow of Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats and culture-expanded. Exosomes were harvested from the BMSC culture supernatants through ultracentrifugation. The effects of the exosomes and Nrf2 knockdown, alone or in combination, on EPC tube formation were evaluated. Streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats bearing a fresh full-thickness round wound were treated with the exosomes alone, or in combination with a lentiviral shRNA targeting Nrf2 (Lenti-sh-Nrf2) or tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ), a small molecule activator of Nrf2. Two weeks later, wound closure, re-epithelization, collagen deposition, neovascularization, and local inflammation were evaluated. BMSC exosomes promoted while Nrf2 knockdown inhibited EPC tube formation. BMSC exosomes accelerated wound closure, re-epithelization, collagen deposition, and neovascularization, and reduced wound inflammation in diabetic rats. These regenerative and anti-inflammatory effects of the exosomes were inhibited by Lenti-sh-Nrf2 but enhanced by tBHQ administration.

Conclusions: BMSC exosomes in combination with a small molecule Nrf2 activator hold promise as a new therapeutic option for chronic diabetic wounds.

Keywords: Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells; Diabetic wound healing; Exosomes; Nrf2; Tert-Butylhydroquinone.