Worldwide, there are approximately 32.4 million myocardial infarctions (MIs) every year [1
]. Damage to the heart after MI is often irreversible [2
]; however, stem cell therapy has been studied as a potential therapeutic intervention after cardiac injury [4
]. Stem cells have unique characteristics that enable growth, regeneration, and cardiac healing after insult [6
]. Each stem cell type used in cardiac wound healing has different attributes that have been suggested for reparative function [7
]. However, to date, all stem cell clinical trials in the heart have shown modest improvement, emphasizing the need to better understand the basic biology of the cells and processes that stem cells target after transplantation [9
]. Recently, cortical bone stem cells (CBSCs) have been shown to have cardioprotective effects in small and large animal heart failure models [11
]. The underlying mechanism of how CBSCs mediate reparative effects after injury is still unknown. CBSCs have shown increased paracrine signaling, which is a major attribute for stem cell therapies. Paracrine signaling in stem cells is often attributed to factors that promote cardioprotection [14
], specifically through increased proliferation, decreased cell death, and increased cell cycle regulation [15
]. These beneficial cellular mechanisms are strongly regulated by epigenetics [16
The polycomb repressive complexes (PRC1 and PRC2) epigenetic regulation has been strongly associated with stem cell cycle regulation, proliferation, and cell death [18
]. The PRC1 is composed of the main epigenetic regulator Bmi1, as well as chromobox protein (CBX), RYBP, and RING [20
]. Bmi1 is a critical regulator for cardiac reprogramming through the ubiquitination of histone 2A on lysine 119 [21
]. Concurrently, there are several studies that have highlighted the importance of Bmi1 in different types of stem cells. There have been several reports that link Bmi1 epigenetic regulation to cell cycle regulation [22
], specifically in adult murine hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) [24
], neural stem cells (NSCs) [25
], and cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs) [26
]. There has been a report of stem cell death in ischemic environments, which makes the role of Bmi1 important to understand because of the potential protective and proliferative role under stress [27
]. Bmi1 and polycomb proteins have been strongly connected to the INK/ARF pathway of cell proliferation and survival [28
]. Specifically, Bmi1 has been associated with beneficial DNA repair mechanisms through epigenetic regulation, increasing ATM and ATR response to double strand break in DNA [29
Stem cells have promising potential; however, current stem cell therapies have not been as successful as originally hoped. This is often due to a loss of engraftment, pluripotency, and differentiation [30
]. The recently discovered CBSCs have been shown to overcome these obstacles [13
]; however, the mechanism behind CBSCs was previously unknown. CBSCs have shown enhanced cardiac wound healing and increased heart function following injury, which was attributed to unique paracrine signaling [12
]. Nevertheless, the specific CBSC mechanisms that provide this therapeutic potential was not known. This article provides insight into the CBSC mechanism by the epigenetic regulation of the PRC1 protein, Bmi1.
Our findings identify a novel mechanism of cortical bone stem cells (CBSCs) and their therapeutic potential, specifically through the epigenetic regulation of Bmi1. In particular, CBSCs overexpress Bmi1 compared to other stem cells types, which enhanced the regulation of cellular proliferation, DNA damage, and cell cycle. Without Bmi1, these important cellular mechanisms are decreased, resulting in attenuated CBSCs, as depicted in Figure 5
Interestingly, without Bmi1 in both mouse and human stem cells, there is also an increase in cell death and apoptosis [24
]. Bmi1 is necessary to regulate cell proliferation normally; however, when there is stress or injury, the Bmi1 regulation is lost [31
]. For example, the overexpression of Bmi1 has been connected to decrease in oxidative stress associated with reactive oxygen species (ROS), which allowed for the regeneration of hematopoietic stem cells [31
], making it an important target for regulating repair after cardiac injury.
Through epigenetic regulation by Bmi1, CBSCs maintain proliferation, regulate survival, and control the cell cycle. Bmi1 has been well studied in regard to these cellular mechanisms, specifically in cancer cells [32
]. In these studies, Bmi1 is closely associated with the INK4a/ARF locus of cell cycle regulation in adult and neonatal models [33
]. Without polycomb proteins like Bmi1, there is disrupted development, cell cycle progression, and organ growth, indicating its necessity in cellular function in the INK4a/ARF pathway [35
]. However, the role of Bmi1 in stem cells has been lacking, despite the therapeutic connection to stem cell research. Studies have shown that stem cells positive for Bmi1 have increased reparative function [36
]. Additionally, Bmi1 has proven vital for the maintenance stem cell properties [24
]. Our results show that without the Bmi1, there is a loss of the epigenetic regulation resulting in dysregulated marks at histone 3 lysine 27 (H3K27). The H3K27 modification was associated with gene silencing as a repressive marker, specifically by polycomb proteins [37
]. Moreover, the H3K27 mark is an abundant modification that has multiple variations that can contribute to the silencing of the gene expression relative to the proliferation and survival mechanisms [38
]. Previously, without this H3K27 mark as well as the H2AK119, there is a lack of chromatin silencing which leads to tumor-like cell growth in somatic cells [28
]. However, this research is indicating the importance of the regulation of the H3K27 modification associated with the polycomb complex in CBSC function. The trimethylation modification at histone 3 is decreased without Bmi1 which also causes an attenuation of CBSC proliferation. Because of the loss of Bmi1 and therefore the enhanced repression through the H3K27 epigenetic modification, there is a decrease in proliferation, increase in DNA damage, and the dysregulation of the cell cycle. A key feature of stem cells, and specifically CBSCs, has been their unique paracrine signaling and wound healing properties, which we are suggesting is due to the increase in the epigenetic regulation by Bmi1. The CBSCs have a higher expression of Bmi1 which indicates enhanced epigenetic regulation, allowing for increased proliferative potentiation and survival, demonstrating the therapeutic mechanisms of these novel stem cells.
Understanding the epigenetic regulation of stem cells is a promising therapeutic strategy for disease diagnosis and treatment. Particularly after myocardial injury, CBSC therapy has been shown to significantly improve heart structure and function. Prior to this study, the mechanism of CBSCs in the failing heart was unknown. Presently, we showed that the loss of Bmi1 in CBSCs results in a loss of histone 3 epigenetic modifications; therefore, reducing cell survival and proliferation of CBSCs (Figure 5
C). This study provides a novel role and possible beneficial mechanism of Bmi1 in CBSCs. Moreover, targeting Bmi1 in a clinical setting, specifically with stem cell therapy, could be an instrumental target to enhance and maintain CBSC proliferation and survival in a failing heart.
The clinical implication of this study provides a deeper understanding and potential target of CBSC stem cell therapy in heart failure. Epigenetic biomarkers are diverse; therefore, there are a multitude of variations on the function and downstream effects of epigenetic modifications in human diseases. More research is needed on the downstream effects of epigenetic modifications in stem cell therapy. Furthermore, it would be vital to study the role of the PRC2 and PRC1 together in CBSCs as the polycomb complexes are similar in function. Additionally, in future studies, assessing the role of the overexpressing Bmi1 in an injury condition with the CBSCs would provide an important assessment of the functionality of the stem cell and its mechanism. Currently, we are reporting a novel role of epigenetic regulation in the promising cortical bone stem cells, thereby enhancing the understanding of epigenetic regulation of stem cell biology.
4. Materials and Methods
4.1. Cell Culture and Bmi1 knockdown
Cortical bone-derived stem cell culture: cortical bone-derived stem cells were isolated from the tibias and femurs of C57BL/6 mice, as previously described [13
]. Briefly, tibias and femurs were flushed to remove all the bone marrow and then digested in collagenase at 37 °C. The digested cells were washed and plated in CBSC media until colonies of CBSCs appeared. The cells were characterized for CBSC markers and expanded for experiments.
Mesenchymal stem cell culture: the femur and tibia of C57BL/6J mice ranging from 2 to 6 months of age were isolated. The epiphysis of each were removed and each bone cavity was flushed with pre-warmed, and the complete culture medium for bone marrow extracted. Extracted marrow medium was passed through a 70 μM filter and remaining cell suspension was cultured in DMEM (Corning) containing 20% fetal bovine serum (Neuromics, Edina, Min, USA) and 1% penicillin streptomycin/L-glutamine (Gibco Life Technologies, Waltham, MA, USA). MSCs were isolated from other bone marrow cells via two passages of plastic adherence. Remaining cells were expanded and cryopreserved as previously described [40
Cardiac-derived stem cells culture: cardiac-derived stem cells RNA and protein were generously gifted to us from Dr. Mohsin Khan’s laboratory.
4.2. Heat Map Comparison
A comparison between CBSC, CDC, and MSC genes for cell cycle and survival was constructed using RNA sequencing as previously described [40
]. Raw fastq files were indexed to mouse genome mm10 and quantified for downstream analysis by Salmon. The bioinformatic analysis was performed using quantified transcripts imported as a matrix of average transcript length using package tximport. to package DESeq2 for downstream differential expression analysis in R. Genes were identified and those with less than 5 reads per samples were removed. Wald test was used to statistically identify genes with p
value < 0.05. Using regularized logarithm (rlog) function, count data were transformed for visualization on a log2 scale.
4.3. Lentivirus Transduction
Using the CBSCs in culture, the lentivirus from Vector Labs for Bmi1 and the control “Scramble” were used following Vector Labs instructions. Both lentiviruses are an shRNA knockdown vector. Briefly, in 6-well plates of 50,000 CBSCs per well, an MOI of 10 was used for each virus, which was determined using the given titer from Vector Labs. The lentivirus was added in 1 mL of CBSC media and let set overnight. The next day, the wells were washed and CBSC media were added. After 72 h, the CBSCs were used for experimentation.
4.4. RT-PCR and Western Blotting
Quantitative real-time PCR and RT2 Profiler PCR Arrays: CBSCs were tested for expression of proliferation, DNA damage, cell cycle, and PRC1 genes by using RT2 profiler PCR arrays (Qiagen, Hilden, Germany). Briefly, RNA was isolated from cells using the miRNeasy Kit (Qiagen) according to the manufacturer’s protocol. Single-stranded cDNA was synthesized from all samples using the RT2 First Strand Kit (Qiagen) as described in the Qiagen protocol for RT2 profiler array sample preparation on an ABI stepOneplus system (Applied Biosystems, Waltham, MA, USA). The primer sets used are listed in the following Table 1
Western blot: Western blot analysis was performed as previously described [20
]. Briefly, sample concentrations were determined using the Bicinchoninic assay (BCA) according to manufacturer’s protocol and ran on a Mini-PROTEAN TGX Gels (Bio-rad). Primary antibodies against Bmi1 (1:1000, rabbit polyclonal, Abcam, Cambridge, United Kingdom, catalog ab38295), H3 (1:100, rabbit polyclonal, Cell Signaling, Danvers, MA, USA, catalog 9715S), Trimethylated H3 at Lysine 27 (1:500, rabbit polyclonal, Abcam, catalog ab195477), Acetylated Histone 3 (1:500, rabbit polyclonal, EMD Millipore, Burlington, MA, USA, catalog 06-599) and GAPDH (1:1000, mouse monoclonal, Millipore Sigma, Burlington MA, USA, catalog MAB374) antibodies (1:1000, LiCOR, Lincoln, NE, USA) were incubated for 1 h at room temperature, and visualized.
4.5. Proliferation Assays
Cell counting: the CBSCs transduced with the Bmi1 or scramble lentivirus were manually counted for 6 consecutive days. CyQUANT assay: To measure cellular proliferation, the CyQUANT Assay from ThermoFisher (C35011) was used following the manufacturer’s instructions on CBSCs that were treated with the Bmi1 or scramble lentivirus previously described. Fluorescence was measured on a spectrometer at excitation/emission of 508/527 nm.
MTT assay: the MTT Assay Kit from Abcam (ab211091) was used to measure cellular metabolism and proliferation following the manufacturer’s instructions on CBSCs that were treated with the Bmi1 or scramble lentivirus previously described.
4.6. Cell Death and Apoptosis Assays
Comet assay: to measure single-cell DNA damage, Bmi1 and scramble lentivirus CBSCs were plated on glass microscope slides with low melt agarose. The cells were lysed in a buffer solution described previously [41
] for 1 h at 4C. The lysed cells on glass slides were placed in a gel electrophoresis box with 1 × TAE and run at 18 V for 1 h. The slides were stained with SYBR Safe and kept in the dark for viewing under a confocal microscope at 20 × objective. The images were analyzed using the OpenComet feature on Image J.
FACS sorting: the Bmi1 and scramble lentivirus CBSCs were exposed to 600 μM hydrogen peroxide for 12 h. The cells were stained and sorted on the LSR-II for Annexin V and DAPI to measure apoptosis and necrosis, respectively. The sort was analyzed using FlowJo software, Ashland, OR, USA.
4.7. Cell Cycle Assays
FACS sorting: the Bmi1 and scramble lentivirus CBSCs were exposed to serum starvation media for 24 h and then treated with 30 μmol/L H2O2 for 3 h the following day. Cell death was confirmed by visualizing the cells under a light microscope before collection. Cells were harvested and stained with Annexin-V (Life Technologies, Carlsbad, CA, USA.) and DAPI (EDM Millipore, Burlington, MA, USA) according to manufacturer’s protocol. Data were acquired with the BD fluorescence-activated cell sorting on the LSR-II and analyzed by Flow Jo or fluorescence activated cell sorting Diva software (BD Biosciences, Franklin Lakes, NJ, USA).
4.8. Histone Modification Assays
Mod Spec: RNA isolated from Bmi1 and scramble lentivirus CBSCs, as described previously, was sent to Northwestern for ModSpec analysis. Proteomics histone analyses were performed by the Northwestern Proteomics Core Facility.
4.9. Statistical Analysis
Analysis was performed by One-Way ANOVA (analysis of variance), followed by Tukey’s multiple comparison test using the GraphPad Prism software (GraphPad Inc., La Jolla, CA, USA). Unpaired T tests were used to compare the two groups. Statistical significance is shown with values of p < 0.05.