Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are adult bone marrow-derived stem cells actually proposed indifferently for the therapy of neurological diseases of both the Central (CNS) and the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), as a panacea able to treat so many different diseases by their immunomodulatory ability and supportive action on neuronal survival. However, the identification of the exact mechanism of MSC action in the different diseases, although mandatory to define their real and concrete utility, is still lacking. Moreover, CNS and PNS neurons present many different biological properties, and it is still unclear if they respond in the same manner not only to MSC treatment, but also to injuries. For these reasons, in this study we compared the susceptibility of cortical and sensory neurons both to toxic drug exposure and to MSC action, in order to verify if these two neuronal populations can respond differently.
Our results demonstrated that Cisplatin (CDDP), Glutamate, and Paclitaxel-treated sensory neurons were protected by the co-culture with MSCs, in different manners: through direct contact able to block apoptosis for CDDP- and Glutamate-treated neurons, and by the release of trophic factors for Paclitaxel-treated ones. A possible key soluble factor for MSC protection was Glutathione, spontaneously released by these cells. On the contrary, cortical neurons resulted more sensitive than sensory ones to the toxic action of the drugs, and overall MSCs failed to protect them. All these data identified for the first time a different susceptibility of cortical and sensory neurons, and demonstrated a protective action of MSCs only against drugs in peripheral neurotoxicity.