Specific disruption of Lnk in murine endothelial progenitor cells promotes dermal wound healing via enhanced vasculogenesis, activation of myofibroblasts, and suppression of inflammatory cell recruitment
© The Author(s). 2016
Received: 24 July 2016
Accepted: 1 September 2016
Published: 28 October 2016
Although endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) contribute to wound repair by promoting neovascularization, the mechanism of EPC-mediated wound healing remains poorly understood due to the lack of pivotal molecular targets of dermal wound repair.
Methods and Results
We found that genetic targeting of the Lnk gene in EPCs dramatically enhances the vasculogenic potential including cell proliferation, migration, and tubule-like formation as well as accelerates in vivo wound healing, with a reduction in fibrotic tissue and improved neovascularization via significant suppression of inflammatory cell recruitment. When injected into wound sites, Lnk -/- EPCs gave rise to a significant number of new vessels, with remarkably increased survival of transplanted cells and decreased recruitment of cytotoxic T cells, macrophages, and neutrophils, but caused activation of fibroblasts in the wound-remodeling phase. Notably, in a mouse model of type I diabetes, transplanted Lnk -/- EPCs induced significantly better wound healing than Lnk +/+ EPCs did.
The specific targeting of Lnk may be a promising EPC-based therapeutic strategy for dermal wound healing via improvement of neovascularization but inhibition of excessive inflammation as well as activation of myofibroblasts during dermal tissue remodeling.
KeywordsEndothelial progenitor cell Wound healing Neovascularization Anti-inflammatory Cell-based therapy
Wound repair is a complex but well-organized biological process that requires the coordinated action of various cell types and multiple signaling cascades [1, 2]. The process consists of three phases: inflammation; tissue formation including proliferation, angiogenesis, and granulation; and tissue remodeling . In the inflammation phase, leukocytes including neutrophils and macrophages are recruited to the wound site to eliminate some pathogens and cell debris. In the phase of new tissue formation, several types of cells migrate and proliferate. Keratinocytes migrate to the wound site, and engrafted endothelial cells (ECs) or endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) form new blood vessels. Fibroblasts also migrate from adjacent tissues and produce the extracellular matrix (ECM). In the tissue-remodeling phase, the ECM is remodeled by fibroblasts, and myofibroblasts play a role in connective tissue compaction and wound contraction [3, 4]. In several pathological conditions such as diabetes and chronic diseases, impairment of these well-ordered healing processes leads to a delay or overhealing of the wound, resulting in a functional disorder, pain, infection, or fibrosis. To address these problems, several researchers have suggested possible strategies to make wounds more regenerative than scar forming, e.g., by applying small molecules, biomimetic scaffolds, gene therapy, electrical manipulation, or a stem/progenitor cell-based therapy [3, 5–7].
EPCs are a promising cell source for treatment of ischemic diseases. Since EPCs were isolated from adult peripheral blood , they have been found to migrate to the injury site and contribute to new-vessel formation as well as to play a pivotal role in vascular maintenance . Although a transplant of EPCs into an ischemic tissue dramatically enhances the tissue repair process, pathological conditions, including inflammation, ischemia, and nutrient deficiency, lower the efficacy of engraftment and decrease survival rates of EPCs in injured tissue. To enhance the therapeutic efficacy, several studies describe key strategies where molecular targeting of EPCs facilitates their functionality and therapeutic effects at an injury site [6, 10, 11]. For example, transfer of the manganese superoxide dismutase gene into EPCs increases wound healing in a mouse model of type 2 diabetes , and modulation of the CCL5–CCR5 interaction enhances wound tissue repair through recruitment of EPCs . In addition, a CXCR4 antagonist, AMD 3100, promotes wound healing by mobilizing bone marrow (BM)-derived EPCs to an injury site . Nevertheless, the mechanism of EPC-mediated wound healing remains poorly understood due to the lack of key molecular targets of dermal wound repair.
Lnk adaptor protein (SH2B3) is a member of the SH2B family of adaptor proteins, which are implicated in regulation and modulation of various cell signaling pathways . Lnk participates in the major signaling pathways, including those related to interleukin (IL)-3, stem cell factor (SCF)/c-Kit, thrombopoietin (TPO)/myeloproliferative leukemia protein (MPL), erythropoietin (EPO)/EPO receptor (EPOR), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)/PDGF receptor (PDGFR), tumor necrosis factor (TNF), and integrins . In addition, Lnk affects several effector targets, such as phosphoinositol-4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt, p38 mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK), extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2), and Janus kinase 2 (JAK2)/signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3), and STAT5 . Our previous studies showed that Lnk deficiency enhances the capacity for cell growth, endothelial commitment, mobilization, and recruitment of EPCs . Moreover, selective downregulation of Lnk in EPCs promotes vascular repair and neovascularization in a murine model of hindlimb ischemia through regulation of the JAK2/STAT3 axis .
In the present study, our aim was to test whether Lnk-deficient EPCs promote wound healing through augmentation of EPC bioactivities and neovascularization with activation of myofibroblasts as well as suppression of inflammatory cell recruitment at wound sites in wound-healing models and in a murine model of type 1 diabetes. This report shows that the specific targeting of Lnk may be an effective EPC-based therapeutic strategy for promotion of dermal wound healing.
The Lnk -/- mice were generated as previously reported . Experiments were performed on 8-week-old male C57BL/6 mice (Biogenomics, Seoul, Korea) and Lnk -/- mice maintained in a 12-hour light/dark cycle in accordance with the regulations of Pusan National University. The protocols were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Pusan National University School of Medicine, on the basis of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Murine BM-derived EPC culture
Isolation of BM-derived EPCs was performed as previously reported . BM mononuclear cells (MNCs) isolated from tibia and femur of wild-type and Lnk -/- mice were plated in cell culture dishes coated with 1 % gelatin (Sigma-Aldrich, St. Louis, MO, USA) at the density of 5 × 105/cm2 and were cultured with endothelial basal medium 2 (EBM-2; Lonza, Walkersville, MD, USA) supplemented with 5 % fetal bovine serum (FBS; Lonza) to obtain the EPC-enriched population. The cells were placed in a humidified incubator at 37 °C and 5 % CO2. After 4 days, nonadherent cells were discarded, and a fresh culture medium was added. Cultures were maintained for another 3 days to obtain the putative EPCs.
The murine model of streptozotocin-induced diabetes
To induce diabetes, a single high dose of streptozotocin (STZ; 225 mg/kg; Sigma-Aldrich) was intraperitoneally injected into C57BL/6 mice (fasted for 16 h beforehand, body weight 20–23 g). Every week after STZ administration, serum glucose levels were measured using an Accu-Check Advantage glucometer (Roche, Indianapolis, IN, USA) during nonfasting status. Mice with a plasma glucose level >200 mg/dl at 3 weeks after injection were regarded as having STZ-induced diabetes .
The wound-healing model
The excisional wound model was generated as described previously . In brief, after shaving and cleaning with 70 % ethanol, the dorsal skin of wild-type or Lnk -/- mice (n = 5 per group) was picked up at the midline and two layers of skin were perforated with a sterile disposable biopsy punch (4 mm diameter; Miltex, York, PA, USA), generating one wound on each side of the midline. After establishing the excisional wound model, the process of wound healing was observed for 10 days. In EPC transplantation experiments, after establishing the excisional wound model, wild-type or Lnk -/- EPCs (105 cells) in 80 μl of PBS or 80 μl of PBS alone were homogeneously administered into the subcutaneous tissue around the wound defect in normal mice or in mice with STZ-induced diabetes (n = 5 per group). Each wound site was digitally photographed at the indicated time points after injury, and wound areas were determined by tracing the wound margins using the Image J software (http://rsbweb.nih.gov/ij/). The wound area at each time point was calculated as a percent area of the original wound.
Histological and immunohistological analysis
The wounds were excised with the surrounding tissue. The tissue samples were fixed with 4 % paraformaldehyde in PBS at 4 °C for 24 h and embedded in paraffin to prepare histological or immunohistological slides. For histological analysis, tissue slices were stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) or Masson’s trichrome dye. For immunohistological analysis, the slices were incubated with anti-CD31, proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), cleaved caspase 3, alpha-smooth muscle actin, and vimentin antibodies (all from Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Dallas, TX, USA) and followed by incubation with Alexa Fluor 488- or 594-conjugated secondary antibodies (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Waltham, MA, USA). Nuclei were stained with 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (Sigma-Aldrich). Immunostained slides were examined under confocal microscopy (Olympus, Tokyo, Japan). Each experiment was repeated at least three times.
Flow cytometric analysis
To verify recruitment of the EPC population or leukocytes, wound tissues were harvested and digested with 0.1 % type II collagenase (Sigma-Aldrich) after postoperative day 3 or 7. EPCs or single cells derived from wound tissues were subjected to flow cytometric analysis using anti-Sca-1, anti-c-Kit, anti-Flk-1, anti-CD34, anti-CD3, anti-CD8, anti-CD11, and anti-CD45 antibodies (all from BD, San Jose, CA, USA). Flow cytometry was performed using a fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS; BD). Histograms represent the cell number (y-axis) versus the fluorescence intensity (x-axis, log scale). FACS gating was performed using cells stained with isotype-matched IgG as a negative control. For each antibody, the proportion of positively stained cells was determined by comparison with isotype-matched control cells. The percentage of positively stained cells is indicated by the positive peaks. Red lines indicate cells stained with each antibody, and black lines indicate the negative control cells. Each experiment was repeated at least three times.
The cell proliferation assay
Cell proliferation was assessed using the BrdU Cell Proliferation Assay Kit (Cell Signaling Technology, Beverly, MA, USA) or Ez-CYTOX Kit (Daeil Biotech, Suwon, South Korea) according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Each experiment was repeated at least three times.
Tubule-like formation assay
To assess tubule-like formation capacity of EPCs, a Matrigel tube formation assay was performed. Matrigel (BD) was added to 96-well plates and incubated at 37 °C. Cells (104/well) were seeded in Matrigel-coated plates and incubated for 6 h at 37 °C and 5 % CO2. The cells were monitored by phase contrast microscopy (Olympus). Each experiment was repeated at least three times.
The migration assay
Cells were plated in 6-well plates and grown until confluence and then the monolayer was wounded with a cell scraper. The detached cells were removed by gentle washing with the medium. Cells were incubated for 24 h at 37 °C and 5 % CO2 and examined under a microscope (Olympus) equipped with a × 40 objective lens. Each experiment was repeated at least three times.
All data are expressed as mean ± SEM. One-way analysis of variance was used followed by Tukey’s post hoc test for multiple comparisons, or a Student’s t test was used for paired comparisons. A p value < 0.05 was considered to indicate a significant difference.
Improved wound healing under the influence of enhanced engrafted EPCs in Lnk -/- mice
The enhanced vasculogenic potential of Lnk-deficient EPCs
Improved wound repair after subcutaneous injection of Lnk-deficient EPCs
Decreased numbers of inflammatory cells among engrafted Lnk-deficient EPCs
Activated fibroblasts among engrafted Lnk-deficient EPCs
Wound repair is improved by the engrafted Lnk-deficient EPCs in a model of a type I diabetes excisional wound
The wound repair process is a complex and well-coordinated regenerative response that involves a cross-talk among several types of cells, growth factors, cytokines, ECM, and soluble factors. Various risk factors, however, such as diabetes, hypoxia, ischemia, and infection, lead to dysfunction of various types of cells and to production of soluble mediators, resulting in wound underhealing or overhealing. Recently, several studies showed that local or systemic administration of stem or progenitor cells, such as mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and EPCs, enhances wound repair and angiogenesis [10, 21]. In particular, these studies revealed that the use of genetically engineered cell populations could increase the therapeutic efficacy, because the harsh pathological environment, including hypoxia, drastically affects the survival rate of the unmodified transplanted cells. In the present study, the major findings are as follows: (1) Lnk deficiency in EPCs enhances the expression of functional EPC markers and bioactivities such as proliferation, migration, and capacity for tubule-like formation; (2) a transplant of Lnk-deficient EPCs enhances wound repair via inhibition of recruitment of leukocytes in the inflammatory phase and by activation of myofibroblasts in the tissue-remodeling phase; (3) administration of Lnk-deficient EPCs improves wound healing in mice with STZ-induced diabetes.
Lnk is an adaptor protein that mediates protein–protein and protein–phospholipid interactions without an intrinsic enzymatic function [22, 23]. Lnk, as a key molecular target, augments the function of EPCs and neovascularization . Our findings indicated that wound repair was significantly enhanced in Lnk-deficient mice as compared with wild-type mice. However, wound repair is a complex biological process that requires several cell types [1, 2], and the Lnk adaptor protein affects various of cell types, including hematopoietic stem cells , T cells , macrophages , EPCs [13, 14], and endothelial cells . Therefore, to focus on one of the populations involved in the wound-healing process, we performed flow cytometry in the wound tissues to search for the recruitment of a specific cell population, and demonstrated that Lnk deficiency in mice specifically increased the recruitment of the EPC population to the injury sites. In a model of bone fracture, Lnk-deficient mice show improved osteogenesis because of enhanced angiogenesis through the recruitment of EPCs to the prefracture zone . Our data also revealed that the EPC bioactivities, including proliferation, migration, and tube formation capacity were significantly higher in Lnk-deficient EPCs than in wild-type EPCs. Our previous studies showed that Lnk deficiency in mice promotes EPC kinetics and neovascularization in response to angiogenic cytokines, such as SCF, VEGF, and SDF-1 . In addition, Lnk-deficient EPCs increase the clonogenic proliferation via activation of the JAK-STAT3 signal pathway . These findings strongly support the notion that Lnk deficiency in mice promotes wound repair through the recruitment of EPCs and improves EPC cellular bioactivities, which are initiating steps of vascular repair, which is tightly regulated by the Lnk adaptor protein for cellular homeostasis.
EPCs, as key progenitors of endothelial cells, participate in neovascularization and tissue repair. After administration of a cutaneous wound to mice, BM-derived EPC mobilization is increased via the SDF-1α/CXCR4 axis . A human cord blood-derived EPC transplant accelerates wound closure in nude mice with STZ-induced diabetes by stimulation of proliferation of keratinocytes and fibroblasts . Our results show that wound closure is significantly better after an EPC transplant than after PBS injection. Moreover, the transplant of Lnk-deficient EPCs significantly enhanced wound healing through the improvement of transplanted-cell proliferation and survival as well as neovascularization, as compared with a transplant of wild-type EPCs. In a hindlimb ischemia model, our previous report clearly showed that a transplant of Lnk-deficient EPC enhances proliferation and survival as well as neovascularization through regulation of the JAK2/STAT3 signaling pathway . In a mouse model of spinal cord injury, we also reported that Lnk-deficient, c-Kit-positive, Sca-1-positive, and lineage marker-negative cell populations (which are a core source of EPCs) enhance angiogenesis, astrogliosis, and functional recovery . These previous reports support our present findings that a transplant of Lnk-deficient EPCs promotes wound healing through enhancement of neovascularization.
In the inflammatory phase, a healthy inflammatory reaction is involved in wound healing through the removal of necrotic tissues, debris, and pathogen contaminants, as well as via recruiting and activating fibroblasts. Leukocytes, including macrophages and neutrophils, appear in the wound at 1–3 days after injury and continue the process of phagocytosis . Nonetheless, inflammation under pathological conditions such as in a chronic disease leads to delayed healing and promotes inflammation. In the proliferation phase (4–14 days after injury), overactivated immune cells induce scar formation and fibrosis [31, 32]. The possible reason for the continued presence of inflammatory cells is their persistent recruitment and activation due to tissue injury from enhanced mechanical pressure, pathogens, leukocyte trapping, and ischemic injury . Cell death and tissue necrosis also cause inflammation . In addition, inflammation and oxidative stress affect EPC mobilization. Our data show that neither wild-type nor Lnk-deficient EPCs affected immune cell recruitment in the inflammatory phase (postoperative day 3), whereas transplantation of Lnk-deficient EPCs significantly decreased the recruitment of macrophages and neutrophils after postoperative day 7 as compared with transplantation of wild-type EPCs. Human gingiva-derived MSCs accelerate wound healing by eliciting M2 polarization in macrophages . In corneal injury, MSCs promote corneal wound healing by their anti-inflammatory action, including secretion of IL-10, IL-6, and transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF-β1) . IL-10-deficient EPCs show decreased survival and function at ischemic sites . These results suggest that Lnk-deficient EPCs have an anti-inflammatory effect after a transplant in an excisional wound. Additional studies will obviously be necessary to further elucidate the complex role of Lnk-deficient EPCs in secretion of anti-inflammatory paracrine factors and their functions during dermal wound healing.
In the remodeling phase, activated fibroblasts, which have a myofibroblast phenotype, perform the ECM remodeling. Fibroblast-to-myofibroblast differentiation represents a pivotal process during wound healing and tissue repair, because the high contractile force generated by myofibroblasts is effective for physiological tissue remodeling [32, 37]. Although the mechanism of skin contraction is different between mice and humans, reduced fibroblast proliferation leads to a strong delay in wound closure . To evaluate the potential preclinical and clinical application of Lnk-deficient EPCs as a cell-based therapeutic, we focused on the bioactivity of fibroblasts through transplantation of EPCs [31, 37, 39]. The results of this study indicate that Lnk-deficient EPCs activate fibroblasts in vitro and induce the differentiation of fibroblasts into myofibroblasts in vivo. In particular, the fibrotic area was significantly decreased in mice transplanted with Lnk-deficient EPCs compared with that of mice transplanted with wild-type EPCs. Myofibroblasts perform a key function in wound healing and in contractile forces . Trophic activity of MSCs increases skin wound closure by activation of dermal fibroblasts . Coculture of fibroblasts with EPCs improves functional recovery after a myocardial infarction . Engraftment of EPCs into an excisional wound model in diabetic mice augments wound repair via fibroblast proliferation . These findings indicate that Lnk-deficient EPCs may be engaged in a cross-talk with fibroblasts for wound healing, but the precise mechanism of action of Lnk-mediated signaling cascades and the difference in skin contraction between mice and humans should be further investigated to support their preclinical and clinical application.
Finally, we assessed the effect of a transplant of Lnk-deficient EPCs on wound repair in mice with STZ-induced diabetes to confirm the beneficial effects of Lnk-deficient EPCs in a chronic disease. Our results revealed that wound repair is significantly better after a transplant of Lnk-deficient EPCs as compared with that in other groups. This study has some limitations to comprehensively determine the effect of Lnk-deficient EPCs in chronic diseases in general. In particular, we established a type 1 diabetes mouse model for wound healing; however, a type 2 diabetes model might be a more appropriate chronic disease model. To reveal the availability and possibility of EPCs for cell-based therapy in diabetes, we first confirmed the effect of Lnk-deficient EPCs in a type 1 diabetes model. In addition, the wound-healing mechanism might be different between mice and humans, since skin contraction plays a greater role in the rodent wound-healing mechanism than in that of humans. Therefore, in future studies, the effect of Lnk gene silencing will be investigated in type 1 and 2 diabetic models, and the precise role of Lnk in EPC-mediated wound healing will be evaluated in the chronic disease condition to support preclinical and clinical application.
Although the effects of Lnk deficiency in EPCs should be further studied in chronic disease models, our findings imply that Lnk-deficient EPCs might be a promising cell source for stem or progenitor cell-based treatments of chronic diseases. Taken together, this study involving murine disease models revealed that specific disruption of Lnk promotes EPC bioactivities such as proliferation, migration, and tube formation in vivo and in vitro. A transplant of Lnk-deficient EPCs promotes wound repair through enhancement of angiogenesis, inhibition of inflammation, and activation of myofibroblasts. In addition, our results showed the possibility of therapeutic application of Lnk-mutated EPCs in a diabetic wound model and give some clues to the precise regulation of the Lnk gene. Thus, specific targeting of Lnk-mediated signaling might be a promising strategy for the development of cell-based therapeutics.
endothelial basal medium
endothelial progenitor cell
extracellular signal-regulated kinase
fluorescence-activated cell sorter
hematoxylin and eosin
mitogen-activated protein kinase
myeloproliferative leukemia protein
mesenchymal stem cell
proliferating cell nuclear antigen
platelet-derived growth factor
stem cell factor
stromal cell-derived factor 1
smooth muscle actin
signal transducer and activator of transcription
tumor necrosis factor
vascular endothelial growth factor
This work was supported by a grant from the National Research Foundation (NRF-2015M3A9B4051053, NRF-2015R1A5A2009656, NRF-2014R1A1A2056907), Korean Health Technology R&D Project, Ministry of Health and Welfare (HI15C0498, HI14C2069) funded by the Korean government, Brain Busan 21 program (BB21) and Brain Korea PLUS 21 program (BK PLUS 21).
Availability of data and materials
The datasets supporting the conclusions of this article are included within the article.
JHL contributed to conception and design, collection and assembly of data, data analysis and interpretation, and manuscript writing. STJ contributed to collection and assembly of data, data analysis and interpretation. JK contributed to data analysis and interpretation. ST contributed to data analysis and interpretation. TA contributed to data analysis and interpretation. Y-JH contributed to conception and design, financial support, data analysis and interpretation, manuscript writing, and finalizing the manuscript. S-MK contributed to conception and design, financial support, data analysis and interpretation, manuscript writing, and finalizing the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Consent for publication
Ethics approval and consent to participate
The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Pusan National University, Yangsan, Korea approved all surgical interventions and postoperative animal care. The approved protocol number is IACUC090017.
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