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Open Access In Vitro Generation of Pancreatic Endocrine Cells From Human Adult Fibroblast-Like Limbal Stem Cells

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Stem cells might provide unlimited supply of transplantable cells for β-cell replacement therapy in diabetes. The human limbus is a highly specialized region hosting a well-recognized population of epithelial stem cells, which sustain the continuous renewal of the cornea, and the recently identified stromal fibroblast-like stem cells (f-LSCs), with apparent broader plasticity. However, the lack of specific molecular markers for the identification of the multipotent limbal subpopulation has so far limited the investigation of their differentiation potential. In this study we show that the human limbus contains uncommitted cells that could be potentially harnessed for the treatment of diabetes. Fourteen limbal biopsies were obtained from patients undergoing surgery for ocular diseases not involving the conjunctiva or corneal surface. We identified a subpopulation of f-LSCs characterized by robust proliferative capacity, expressing several pluripotent stem cell markers and exhibiting self-renewal ability. We then demonstrated the potential of f-LSCs to differentiate in vitro into functional insulin-secreting cells by developing a four-step differentiation protocol that efficiently directed f-LSCs towards the pancreatic endocrine cell fate. The expression of specific endodermal, pancreatic, islet, and β-cell markers, as well as functional properties of f-LSC-derived insulin-producing cells, were evaluated during differentiation. With our stage-specific approach, up to 77% of f-LSCs eventually differentiated into cells expressing insulin (also assessed as C-peptide) and exhibited phenotypic features of mature β-cells, such as expression of critical transcription factors and presence of secretory granules. Although insulin content was about 160-fold lower than what observed in adult islets, differentiated cells processed ∼98% of their proinsulin content, similar to mature β-cells. Moreover, they responded in vitro in a regulated manner to multiple secretory stimuli, including glucose. In conclusion, f-LSCs represent a possible relevant source of autologous, transplantable, insulin-producing cells that could be tested for the reversal of diabetes.

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Keywords: Diabetes; Fibroblast-like stem cells; Limbus; β-Cells

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Sezione di Endocrinologia, Dipartimento Biomedico di Medicina Interna e Specialistica (Di.Bi.M.I.S.), Università degli Studi di Palermo, Palermo, Italy

Publication date: 2012-01-01

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  • Cell Transplantation publishes original, peer-reviewed research and review articles on the subject of cell transplantation and its application to human diseases. To ensure high-quality contributions from all areas of transplantation, separate section editors and editorial boards have been established. Articles deal with a wide range of topics including physiological, medical, preclinical, tissue engineering, and device-oriented aspects of transplantation of nervous system, endocrine, growth factor-secreting, bone marrow, epithelial, endothelial, and genetically engineered cells, among others. Basic clinical studies and immunological research papers are also featured. To provide complete coverage of this revolutionary field, Cell Transplantation will report on relevant technological advances, and ethical and regulatory considerations of cell transplants. Cell Transplantation is now an Open Access journal starting with volume 18 in 2009, and therefore there will be an inexpensive publication charge, which is dependent on the number of pages, in addition to the charge for color figures. This will allow work to be disseminated to a wider audience and also entitle the corresponding author to a free PDF, as well as prepublication of an unedited version of the manuscript.

    Cell Transplantation is now being published by SAGE. Please visit their website for the most recent issues.

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