Dental pulp is a highly vascularized and innervated tissue containing a heterogeneous stem cell population with multilineage differentiation potential. Current endodontic treatments focus on the preservation of the pulp tissue and the regeneration of dental pulp after pathological insults. Human dental pulp stem cells (hDPSCs) are currently investigated as stem cell–based therapy for pulp regeneration and for peripheral nerve injury in which neurons and Schwann cells display limited regenerative capacity.
We have developed a neuronal differentiation protocol for hDPSCs that requires neurosphere formation before neuronal maturation. Moreover, Schwann cell differentiation of hDPSCs in our group revealed that differentiated hDPSCs have acquired the ability to myelinate and guide neurites from dorsal root ganglia.
Besides their dynamic differentiation capacity, hDPSCs were shown to exert a paracrine effect on neural and endothelial cells. Analysis of hDPSC conditioned medium revealed the secretion of a broad spectrum of growth factors including brain-derived neurotrophic factor, nerve growth factor, vascular endothelial growth factor, and glial-derived neurotrophic factor. Application of the conditioned medium to endothelial cells promoted cell migration and tubulogenesis, indicating a paracrine proangiogenic effect. This hypothesis was enforced by the enhanced formation of blood vessels in the chorioallantoic membrane assay in the presence of hDPSCs. In addition, transplantation of 3-dimensional–printed hydroxyapatite scaffolds containing peptide hydrogels and hDPSCs into immunocompromised mice revealed blood vessel ingrowth, pulplike tissue formation, and osteodentin deposition suggesting osteogenic/odontogenic differentiation of hDPSCs.
Future studies in our research group will focus on the pulp regeneration capacity of hDPSCs and the role of fibroblasts within the pulp extracellular matrix.