Can mesenchymal stem cells reverse chronic stress-induced impairment of lung healing following traumatic injury?

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One week following unilateral lung contusion (LC), rat lungs demonstrate full histologic recovery. When animals undergo LC plus the addition of chronic restraint stress (CS), wound healing is significantly delayed. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are pluripotent cells capable of immunomodulation, which have been the focus of much research in wound healing and tissue regeneration. We hypothesize that the addition of MSCs will improve wound healing in the setting of CS.


Male Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 6–7 per group) were subjected to LC/CS with or without the injection of MSCs. MSCs were given as a single intravenous dose of 5 × 106 cells in 1 mL Iscove’s Modified Dulbecco’s Medium at the time of LC. Rats were subjected to 2 hours of restraint stress on Days 1 to 6 following LC. Seven days following injury, rats were sacrificed, and the lungs were examined for histologic evidence of wound healing using a well-established histologic lung injury score (LIS) to grade injury. LIS examines inflammatory cells/high-power field (HPF) averaged over 30 fields, interstitial edema, pulmonary edema, and alveolar integrity, with scores ranging from 0 (normal) to 11 (highly damaged). Peripheral blood was analyzed by flow cytometry for the presence of T-regulatory (C4+CD25+FoxP3+) cells. Data were analyzed by analysis of variance followed by Tukey’s multiple comparison test, expressed as mean (SD).


As previously shown, 7 days following isolated LC, LIS has returned to 0.83 (0.41), with a subscore of zero for inflammatory cells/HPF. The addition of CS results in an LIS of 4.4 (2.2), with a subscore of 1.9 (0.7) for inflammatory cells/HPF. Addition of MSC to LC/CS decreased LIS to 1.7 (0.8), with a subscore of zero for inflammatory cells/HPF. Furthermore, treatment of animals undergoing LC/CS with MSCs increased the %T-regulatory cells by 70% in animals undergoing LC/CS alone (12.9% [2.4]% vs. 6.2% [1.3%]).


Stress-induced impairment of wound healing is reversed by the addition of MSCs given at the time of injury in this rat LC model. This improvement in lung healing is associated with a decrease in the number of inflammatory cells and an increase in the number of T-regulatory cells. Further study into the mechanisms by which MSCs hasten wound healing is warranted.

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