Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) reside in many organs including lung, as shown by their isolation from fetal lung tissues, bronchial stromal compartment, bronchial-alveolar lavage and transplanted lung tissues. It is still controversial whether lung MSCs can undergo mesenchymal-to-epithelial-transition (MET) and possess immune regulatory properties. To this aim, we isolated, expanded and characterized MSCs from normal adult human lung (lung-hMSCs) and compared with human bone marrow-derived MSCs (BM-hMSCs). Our results show that lung-MSCs reside at perivascular level and do not significantly differ from BM-hMSCs in terms of immunophenotype, stemness gene profile, mesodermal differentiation potential and modulation of T, B and NK cells. However, lung-hMSCs express higher basal level of the stemness-related marker nestin and show, following in vitro treatment with retinoic acid, higher epithelial cell polarization, which is anyway partial when compared to a control epithelial bronchial cell line. Although these results question the real capability of acquiring epithelial functions by MSCs and the feasibility of MSC-based therapeutic approaches to regenerate damaged lung tissues, the characterization of this lung-hMSC population may be useful to study the involvement of stromal cell compartment in lung diseases in which MET plays a role, such as in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
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