Stem-cell-based repair of auditory neurons may represent an attractive therapeutic option to restore sensorineural hearing loss. Hair-follicle-bulge-derived stem cells (HFBSCs) are promising candidates for this type of therapy, because they (1) have migratory properties, enabling migration after transplantation, (2) can differentiate into sensory neurons and glial cells, and (3) can easily be harvested in relatively high numbers. However, HFBSCs have never been used for this purpose. We hypothesized that HFBSCs can be used for cell-based repair of the auditory nerve and we have examined their migration and incorporation into cochlear modiolus explants and their subsequent differentiation. Modiolus explants obtained from adult wild-type mice were cultured in the presence of EF1α-copGFP-trans-duced HFBSCs, constitutively expressing copepod green fluorescent protein (copGFP). Also, modiolus explants without hair cells were co-cultured with DCX-copGFP-transduced HFBSCs, which demonstrate copGFP upon doublecortin expression during neuronal differentiation. Velocity of HFBSC migration towards modiolus explants was calculated, and after two weeks, co-cultures were fixed and processed for immunohistochemical staining. EF1α-copGFP HFBSC migration velocity was fast: 80.5 ± 6.1 μm/h. After arrival in the explant, the cells formed a fascicular pattern and changed their phenotype into an ATOH1-positive neuronal cell type. DCX-copGFP HFBSCs became green-fluorescent after integration into the explants, confirming neuronal differentiation of the cells. These results show that HFBSC-derived neuronal progenitors are migratory and can integrate into cochlear modiolus explants, while adapting their phenotype depending on this micro-environment. Thus, HFBSCs show potential to be employed in cell-based therapies for auditory nerve repair.

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Journal PLoS ONE
Schomann, T, Mezzanotte, L, De Groot, J.C.M.J. (John C. M. J.), Rivolta, M, Hendriks, S.H. (Sanne H.), Frijns, J.H.M, & Huisman, M.A. (2017). Neuronal differentiation of hair-follicle-bulge-derived stem cells co-cultured with mouse cochlear modiolus explants. PLoS ONE, 12(10). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0187183