Bone-marrow-derived human MSCs (mesenchymal stem cells) support repair when administered to animals with TBI (traumatic brain injury) in large part through secreted trophic factors. We directly tested the ability of the culture medium (or secretome) collected from human MSCs under normoxic or hypoxic conditions to protect neurons in a rat model of TBI. Concentrated conditioned medium from cultured human MSCs or control medium was infused through the tail vein of rats subjected to TBI. We have demonstrated that MSCs cultured in hypoxia were superior to those cultured in normoxia in inducing expression of both HGF (hepatocyte growth factor) and VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) in the cultured medium. We showed further that rats treated with the secretome from both normoxic- and hypoxic-preconditioned MSCs performed significantly better than the controls in both motor and cognitive functional test. Subsequent post-mortem evaluation of brain damage at the 4-day time point confirmed that both normoxic- and hypoxic-preconditioned MSC secretome-treated rats had significantly greater numbers of newly forming neurons, but significantly less than the controls in brain damaged volume and apoptosis. The TBI rats treated with hypoxic-preconditioned MSC secretome performed significantly better in both motor and cognitive function tests and neurogenesis, and had significantly less brain damage than the TBI rats treated with the normoxic-preconditioned MSC secretome. Collectively, these findings suggest that MSCs secrete bioactive factors, including HGF and VEGF, that stimulate neurogenesis and improve outcomes of TBI in a rat model. Hypoxic preconditioning enhances the secretion of these bioactive factors from the MSCs and the therapeutic potential of the cultured MSC secretome in experimental TBI.

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