The amniotic fluid as a source of neural stem cells in the setting of experimental neural tube defects.

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Pediatrics, Surgery

Journal Title

Stem cells and development

MeSH Headings

Amniotic Fluid, Animals, Antigens, Differentiation, Cell Differentiation, Disease Models, Animal, Female, Fetus, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Humans, Neural Stem Cells, Pregnancy, Rats, Rats, Sprague-Dawley, Spinal Dysraphism, Transplantation, Autologous, Transplantation, Homologous


We sought to determine whether neural stem cells (NSCs) can be isolated from the amniotic fluid in the setting of neural tube defects (NTDs), as a prerequisite for eventual autologous perinatal therapies. Pregnant Sprague-Dawley dams (n=62) were divided into experimental (n=42) and control (n=20) groups, depending on prenatal exposure to retinoic acid for the induction of fetal NTDs. Animals were killed before term for analysis (n=685 fetuses). Amniotic fluid samples from both groups underwent epigenetic selection for NSCs, followed by exposure to neural differentiation media. Representative cell samples underwent multiple morphological and phenotypical analyses at different time points. No control fetus (n=267) had any structural abnormality, whereas at least one type of NTD developed in 52% (217/418) of the experimental fetuses (namely, isolated spina bifida, n=144; isolated exencephaly, n=24; or a combination of the two, n=49). Only amniotic samples from fetuses with a NTD yielded cells with typical neural progenitor morphology and robust expression of both Nestin and Sox-2, primary markers of NSCs. These cells responded to differentiation media by displaying typical morphological changes, along with expression of beta-tubulin III, glial fibrillary acidic protein, and/or O4, markers for immature neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes, respectively. This was concurrent with downregulation of Nestin and Sox-2. We conclude that the amniotic fluid can harbor disease-specific stem cells, for example, NSCs in the setting of experimental NTDs. The amniotic fluid may be a practical source of autologous NSCs applicable to novel forms of therapies for spina bifida.



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