Bone Marrow-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells-Derived Exosomes Promote Survival of Retinal Ganglion Cells Through miRNA-Dependent Mechanisms

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The loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGC) and their axons is one of the leading causes of blindness and includes traumatic (optic neuropathy) and degenerative (glaucoma) eye diseases. Although no clinical therapies are in use, mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) have demonstrated significant neuroprotective and axogenic effects on RGC in both of the aforementioned models. Recent evidence has shown that MSC secrete exosomes, membrane enclosed vesicles (30–100 nm) containing proteins, mRNA and miRNA which can be delivered to nearby cells. The present study aimed to isolate exosomes from bone marrow-derived MSC (BMSC) and test them in a rat optic nerve crush (ONC) model. Treatment of primary retinal cultures with BMSC-exosomes demonstrated significant neuroprotective and neuritogenic effects. Twenty-one days after ONC and weekly intravitreal exosome injections; optical coherence tomography, electroretinography, and immunohistochemistry was performed. BMSC-derived exosomes promoted statistically significant survival of RGC and regeneration of their axons while partially preventing RGC axonal loss and RGC dysfunction. Exosomes successfully delivered their cargo into inner retinal layers and the effects were reliant on miRNA, demonstrated by the diminished therapeutic effects of exosomes derived from BMSC after knockdown of Argonaute-2, a key miRNA effector molecule. This study supports the use of BMSC-derived exosomes as a cell-free therapy for traumatic and degenerative ocular disease. Stem Cells Translational Medicine 2017;6:1273–1285

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