CRISPR-Cas9 Editing of TLR4 to Improve the Outcome of Cardiac Cell Therapy

Extracellular Vesicles

Background: Inflammation and fibrosis limit the reparative properties of human mesenchymal stromal cells (hMSCs). We hypothesized that disrupting the toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) gene would switch hMSCs toward a reparative phenotype and improve the outcome of cell therapy for infarct repair. Methods and results: We developed and optimized a new electroporation protocol for CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. This protocol achieved a 68% success rate when applied to isolated hMSCs from the heart and epicardial fat of patients with ischemic heart disease. While cell editing lowered TLR4 expression in hMSCs, it did not affect classical markers of hMSCs, proliferation, and migration rate. Protein mass spectrometry analysis revealed that edited cells secreted fewer proteins involved in inflammation. Analysis of biological processes revealed that TLR4 editing reduced processes linked to inflammation and extracellular organization. Furthermore, edited cells expressed less NF-ƙB and secreted lower amounts of extracellular vesicles, pro-inflammatory and pro-fibrotic cytokines than unedited hMSCs. Cell therapy with both edited and unedited hMSCs improved survival, left ventricular (LV) remodeling, and cardiac function after myocardial infarction (MI) in mice. Postmortem histologic analysis revealed clusters of edited cells that survived in the scar tissue 28 days after MI. Morphometric analysis showed that implantation of edited cells increased the area of myocardial islands in the scar tissue, reduced the occurrence of transmural scar, increased scar thickness, and decreased expansion index. Conclusions: We show, for the first time, that CRISPR-Cas9-based disruption of the TLR4-gene reduces pro-inflammatory polarization of hMSCs, and improves infarct healing and remodeling in mice. Our results provide a new approach to improve the outcomes of cell therapy for cardiovascular diseases.

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