BACKGROUND: Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) have not only been implicated in the development of lung diseases, but they have also been proposed as a future cell-based therapy for lung diseases. However, the cellular identity of the primary MSC in human lung tissues has not yet been reported. This study therefore aimed to identify and characterise the 'bona fide' MSC in human lungs and to investigate if the MSC numbers correlate with the development of bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome in lung-transplanted patients.
METHODS: Primary lung MSC were directly isolated or culture-derived from central and peripheral transbronchial biopsies of lung-transplanted patients and evaluated using a comprehensive panel of in vitro and in vivo assays.
RESULTS: Primary MSC were enriched in the CD90/CD105 mononuclear cell fraction with mesenchymal progenitor frequencies of up to four colony-forming units, fibroblast/100 cells. In situ staining of lung tissues revealed that CD90/CD105 MSCs were located perivascularly. MSC were tissue-resident and exclusively donor lung-derived even in biopsies obtained from patients as long as 16 years after transplantation. Culture-derived mesenchymal stromal cells showed typical in vitro MSC properties; however, xenotransplantation into non-obese diabetic/severe combined immunodeficient (NOD/SCID) mice showed that lung MSC readily differentiated into adipocytes and stromal tissues, but lacked significant in vivo bone formation.
CONCLUSIONS: These data clearly demonstrate that primary MSC in human lung tissues are not only tissue resident but also tissue-specific. The identification and phenotypic characterisation of primary lung MSC is an important first step in identifying the role of MSC in normal lung physiology and pulmonary diseases.