The effect of meconium exposure on the expression and differentiation of amniotic fluid mesenchymal stem cells

BACKGROUND: The goal of this study was to determine if exposure to meconium would alter the phenotype of amniotic fluid mesenchymal stem cells (AF-MSCs) and the ability of these cells to be differentiated into distal airway type cells.
METHODS: Meconium was collected, lyophilized and resuspended in PBS at 3 different concentrations (high, medium, and low). AF-MSCs were cultured in the presence of this meconium suspension for 8 hours and then analyzed for changes in gene expression. Additionally, AF-MSCs exposed to meconium were differentiated for 14 days using modified small airway growth medium (mSAGM) and gene expression was determined. As a spontaneous differentiation control, meconium exposed AF-MSCs were cultured in amniotic fluid stem cell medium (AF medium).
RESULTS: After 8 hours of exposure in culture, AF-MSCs had increased expression of distal airway genes aquaporin 5 (AQP5) and surfactant protein c (SPC) when cultured in AF medium containing meconium. These gene expression levels were similar to that of AF-MSCs that were differentiated in mSAGM for 14 days. Furthermore, there was an up regulation of pluripotency genes NANOG and OCT4 in response to low meconium concentration for 8 hours. Following 14 days of culture in mSAGM, there was an upregulation of TTF1, SPC and AQP5 expression in the control, as well as in the low and medium meconium exposed groups indicating that these cells were still able to be differentiated. High meconium concentration did, however, appear to influence the level of distal airway gene expression after 14 days in mSAGM. After 14 days in AF medium, there was significant downregulation in pluripotency and mesenchymal markers as well as distal airway gene expression in all groups.
CONCLUSION:The phenotype of AF-MSCs is modulated by meconium exposure; however, the cells were still able to differentiate into distal airway gene and protein expression. This result supports the hypothesis that progenitor cells exist in the amniotic fluid and the presence of meconium may affect their initial phenotype. However, these cells were still able to be differentiated to a distal lung phenotype.

*Corresponding Author: 

Christine M. Finck, MD, Department of Surgery, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, 282 Washington Street Hartford, CT 06106, USA. Tel.: +1 860 545 8477; Fax: +1 860 545 9545; E-mail: