Mesenchymal Stem Cells from Neonatal Thymus Helps Make New Blood Vessels


The thymus is an organ that sits over the top of the heart and it plays a pivotal role in the development of T-lymphocytes. The thymus is a very durable organ that can readily regenerate if it is injured. This regenerative ability is largely due to it high level of vascularization (lots of blood vessels). This vascularization is due to a robust population of resident mesenchymal stem cells that supports blood vessel formation in the damaged thymus. The process of blood vessel formation is called “angiogenesis.” The angiogenic potential of these thymus-based mesenchymal stem cells might hold excellent potential for regenerative therapies.

Thymus_lg

As it turns out, neonatal surgeries tend to generate thymus tissue that is usually thrown out as medical waste. Ming-Sing Si from Mott’s Children Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan and colleagues isolated mesenchymal stem cells from these surgically-derived neonatal thymuses and tested their ability to stimulate blood vessels in an experimental setting.

Discarded thymus tissue was obtained from the University of Michigan, and this tissue was minced, degraded with enzymes, and cultured. The mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) moved from the thymus tissue onto the culture dishes. These thymus-based MSCs grew like gangbusters in culture and could be passaged over 30 times.

Discarded human neonatal thymus tissue is a source of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). (A): Discarded human neonatal thymus tissue during pediatric cardiac surgery. (B): Minced thymus tissue prior to plating. (C): Cells migrating from thymus tissue fragments during explant culture at 10 days. (D): Clonogenicity of thymus MSCs at 2 weeks (representative of 7 donors). (E): Colony-forming efficiency of thymus MSCs. (F): Averaged cumulative population doubling of thymus MSCs (n = 4) over 9 weeks of culture. Abbreviation: CFU-F, fibroblastic colony-forming unit.
Discarded human neonatal thymus tissue is a source of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). (A): Discarded human neonatal thymus tissue during pediatric cardiac surgery. (B): Minced thymus tissue prior to plating. (C): Cells migrating from thymus tissue fragments during explant culture at 10 days. (D): Clonogenicity of thymus MSCs at 2 weeks (representative of 7 donors). (E): Colony-forming efficiency of thymus MSCs. (F): Averaged cumulative population doubling of thymus MSCs (n = 4) over 9 weeks of culture. Abbreviation: CFU-F, fibroblastic colony-forming unit.

When these thymus-based MSCs were combined with human umbilical vein endothelial cells, within one day, the cells formed an extensive network of blood vessels.

Thymus mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) cooperate with human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) to form a network in a two-dimensional angiogenesis assay. (A): Monolayer appearance of HUVECs after 48 hours of culture on fibrin hydrogel. (B): Thymus MSCs clustered together after 24 hours of culture on fibrin hydrogel. (C): Combining HUVECs with thymus MSCs (2:1) resulted in the appearance of interconnected tubules at 24 hours. Scale bars = 100 μm. Results are representative of two independent experiments.
Thymus mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) cooperate with human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) to form a network in a two-dimensional angiogenesis assay. (A): Monolayer appearance of HUVECs after 48 hours of culture on fibrin hydrogel. (B): Thymus MSCs clustered together after 24 hours of culture on fibrin hydrogel. (C): Combining HUVECs with thymus MSCs (2:1) resulted in the appearance of interconnected tubules at 24 hours. Scale bars = 100 μm. Results are representative of two independent experiments.

Gene expression studies showed that culturing thymus MSCs with human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) caused the HUVECs to express a variety of blood vessel-specific genes.  These thymus-based MSCs were also able to induce blood vessels if the cells were wadded up into a ball (spheroids).

To top it all off, Si and others implanted thymus-based MSCs underneath the skin of nude mice.  They used hydrogels with no cells, hydrogels plus HUVECs, hydrogels plus thymus-based MSCs, and hydrogels with thymus-based MSCs plus HUVECs.  The control implants and the HUVEC implants showed no blood vessels.  HUVECs make very good blood vessels, but they have to be directed to do so.  Both the thymus-based MSCs and the MSCs plus HUVECs showed extensive integration into the host tissue with lots of blood vessels.

Thymus mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) incite angiogenesis in vivo. Fibrin constructs without spheroids (control) or with 500 spheroids with 600 human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) per spheroid, 200 thymus MSCs per spheroid, or 600 HUVECs plus 200 thymus MSCs per spheroid were generated (n = 3 per group) and were implanted subcutaneously for 14 days in NOD-SCID mice. Explanted constructs were photographed (edges traced in A–D) and processed for histology. (A): Controls did not manifest local reaction. (B): HUVEC constructs appeared avascular. (C): Thymus MSC constructs were integrated and caused increased adjacent vascularization. (D): HUVEC plus thymus MSC constructs were integrated and surrounded by a host vascular response and appeared to have vessels within. (E–H): Construct hematoxylin and eosin staining. Scale bars = 50 μm. (E): Avascular tissue invasion of control construct. Scale bar = 100 μm. (F): HUVEC construct with adjacent cellularity and vascularity between panniculus carnosus muscle layer (∗) and construct. “Ghost” (†) of the prior locations of spheroid and necrotic spheroid (‡) were present in internal regions of all constructs with spheroids. (G): Thymus MSC construct with increased adjacent cellularity and vascularity. (H): HUVEC plus thymus MSC construct with increased vascularization within the construct. (I): Manual measurement of vessel density demonstrates significant differences by two-way analysis of variance. Control and HUVEC constructs had minimal adjacent vascularization. Thymus MSC constructs promoted the greatest adjacent response, whereas HUVEC plus thymus MSC constructs contained the greatest vessel density within the construct. (J, K): Immunohistochemical staining with human-specific CD31 monoclonal antibody revealed that only constructs with HUVEC plus thymus MSCs contained CD31-positive luminal structures with blood cells. Scale bar = 20 μm. Abbreviations: C, controls; H, human umbilical vein endothelial cell constructs; T, thymus mesenchymal stromal cell construct.
Thymus mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) incite angiogenesis in vivo. Fibrin constructs without spheroids (control) or with 500 spheroids with 600 human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) per spheroid, 200 thymus MSCs per spheroid, or 600 HUVECs plus 200 thymus MSCs per spheroid were generated (n = 3 per group) and were implanted subcutaneously for 14 days in NOD-SCID mice. Explanted constructs were photographed (edges traced in A–D) and processed for histology. (A): Controls did not manifest local reaction. (B): HUVEC constructs appeared avascular. (C): Thymus MSC constructs were integrated and caused increased adjacent vascularization. (D): HUVEC plus thymus MSC constructs were integrated and surrounded by a host vascular response and appeared to have vessels within. (E–H): Construct hematoxylin and eosin staining. Scale bars = 50 μm. (E): Avascular tissue invasion of control construct. Scale bar = 100 μm. (F): HUVEC construct with adjacent cellularity and vascularity between panniculus carnosus muscle layer (∗) and construct. “Ghost” (†) of the prior locations of spheroid and necrotic spheroid (‡) were present in internal regions of all constructs with spheroids. (G): Thymus MSC construct with increased adjacent cellularity and vascularity. (H): HUVEC plus thymus MSC construct with increased vascularization within the construct. (I): Manual measurement of vessel density demonstrates significant differences by two-way analysis of variance. Control and HUVEC constructs had minimal adjacent vascularization. Thymus MSC constructs promoted the greatest adjacent response, whereas HUVEC plus thymus MSC constructs contained the greatest vessel density within the construct. (J, K): Immunohistochemical staining with human-specific CD31 monoclonal antibody revealed that only constructs with HUVEC plus thymus MSCs contained CD31-positive luminal structures with blood cells. Scale bar = 20 μm. Abbreviations: C, controls; H, human umbilical vein endothelial cell constructs; T, thymus mesenchymal stromal cell construct.

These MSCs show low expression of human leukocyte antigen class I, which, translated, means that these cells are unlikely to be recognized by the patient’s immune system.  Therefore, these cells could be donated to patients whose resident MSCs are of poor quality or do not have enough of their own MSCs for therapeutic processes.

This paper shows that discarded neonatal thymus contains large numbers of resident MSCs that can be isolated and cultured by a standard explant method.  These MSCs have all the characteristics of traditional MSCs, but have more robust growth characteristics in culture.  These thymus MSCs also possess outstanding proangiogenesis qualities that should be further tested and considered as promoters of tissue and organ regeneration in tissue engineering strategies.

Advertisements

Published by

mburatov

Professor of Biochemistry at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, MI. Have been at SAU since 1999. Author of The Stem Cell Epistles. Before that I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA (1997-1999), and Sussex University, Falmer, UK (1994-1997). I studied Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Irvine (PhD 1994), and Microbiology at UC Davis (MA 1986, BS 1984).