The interaction of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) and tumor cells has been investigated in various contexts. HMSCs are considered as cellular treatment vectors based on their capacity to migrate towards a malignant lesion. However, concerns about unpredictable behavior of transplanted hMSCs are accumulating. In malignant gliomas, the recruitment mechanism is driven by glioma-secreted factors which lead to accumulation of both, tissue specific stem cells as well as bone marrow derived hMSCs within the tumor. The aim of the present work was to study specific cellular interactions between hMSCs and glioma cells in vitro. We show, that glioma cells as well as hMSCs differentially express connexins, and that they interact via gap-junctional coupling. Besides this so-called functional syncytium formation, we also provide evidence of cell fusion events (structural syncytium). These complex cellular interactions led to an enhanced migration and altered proliferation of both, tumor and mesenchymal stem cell types in vitro. The presented work shows that glioma cells display signs of functional as well as structural syncytium formation with hMSCs in vitro. The described cellular phenomena provide new insight into the complexity of interaction patterns between tumor cells and host cells. Based on these findings, further studies are warranted to define the impact of a functional or structural syncytium formation on malignant tumors and cell based therapies in vivo.Highlights
▸ Cx43 is the predominantly expressed gap junction protein in MSC and U87 cells. ▸ mRNA expression of Cx43 changes significantly in co-cultured glioma and MSC cells. ▸ Co-culture of glioma cells and MSC shows structural and functional syncytia formation. ▸ Co-culturing in mixed spheroids enhances migration of glioma cells and MSC. ▸ Inhibition of gap junctions reduces cell migration out of spheroids.