Phagocytosing differentiated cell-fragments is a novel mechanism for controlling somatic stem cell differentiation within a short time frame

Extracellular Vesicles

Stem cells undergo cytokine-driven differentiation, but this process often takes longer than several weeks to complete. A novel mechanism for somatic stem cell differentiation via phagocytosing ‘model cells’ (apoptotic differentiated cells) was found to require only a short time frame. Pluripotent-like Muse cells, multipotent mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), and neural stem cells (NSCs) phagocytosed apoptotic differentiated cells via different phagocytic receptor subsets than macrophages. The phagocytosed-differentiated cell-derived contents (e.g., transcription factors) were quickly released into the cytoplasm, translocated into the nucleus, and bound to promoter regions of the stem cell genomes. Within 24 ~ 36 h, the cells expressed lineage-specific markers corresponding to the phagocytosed-differentiated cells, both in vitro and in vivo. At 1 week, the gene expression profiles were similar to those of the authentic differentiated cells and expressed functional markers. Differentiation was limited to the inherent potential of each cell line: triploblastic-, adipogenic-/chondrogenic-, and neural-lineages in Muse cells, MSCs, and NSCs, respectively. Disruption of phagocytosis, either by phagocytic receptor inhibition via small interfering RNA or annexin V treatment, impeded differentiation in vitro and in vivo. Together, our findings uncovered a simple mechanism by which differentiation-directing factors are directly transferred to somatic stem cells by phagocytosing apoptotic differentiated cells to trigger their rapid differentiation into the target cell lineage.

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Cigarette smoke (CS) represents one of the most relevant environmental risk factors for several chronic pathologies. Tissue damage caused by CS exposure is mediated, at least in part, by oxidative stress induced by its toxic and pro-oxidant components. Evidence demonstrates that extracellular vesicles (EVs) released by various cell types exposed to CS extract (CSE) are characterized by altered biochemical cargo and gained pathological properties. In the present study, we evaluated the content of oxidized proteins and phospholipid fatty acid profiles of EVs released by human bronchial epithelial BEAS-2B cells treated with CSE. This specific molecular characterization has hitherto not been performed. After confirmation that CSE reduces viability of BEAS-2B cells and elevates intracellular ROS levels, in a dose-dependent manner, we demonstrated that 24 h exposure at 1% CSE, a concentration that only slight modifies cell viability but increases ROS levels, was able to increase carbonylated protein levels in cells and released EVs. The release of oxidatively modified proteins via EVs might represent a mechanism used by cells to remove toxic proteins in order to avoid their intracellular overloading. Moreover, 1% CSE induced only few changes in the fatty acid asset in BEAS-2B cell membrane phospholipids, whereas several rearrangements were observed in EVs released by CSE-treated cells. The impact of changes in acyl chain composition of CSE-EVs accounted for the increased saturation levels of phospholipids, a membrane parameter that might influence EV stability, uptake and, at least in part, EV-mediated biological effects. The present in vitro study adds new information concerning the biochemical composition of CSE-related EVs, useful to predict their biological effects on target cells. Furthermore, the information regarding the presence of oxidized proteins and the specific membrane features of CSE-related EVs can be useful to define the utilization of circulating EVs as marker for diagnosing of CS-induced lung damage and/or CS-related diseases.

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