Multipotent human bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) improve functional outcome after experimental traumatic brain injury (TBI). The present study was designed to investigate whether systemic administration of cell-free exosomes generated from hMSCs cultured in 2-dimensional (2D) conventional conditions or in 3-dimensional (3D) collagen scaffolds promote functional recovery and neurovascular remodeling in rats after TBI. Researchers from the Henry Ford Hospital subjected Wistar rats to TBI induced by controlled cortical impact; 24 h later tail vein injection of exosomes derived from hMSCs cultured under 2D or 3D conditions or an equal number of liposomes as a treatment control were performed. The modified Morris water maze, neurological severity score and footfault tests were employed to evaluate cognitive and sensorimotor functional recovery. Animals were sacrificed at 35 days after TBI. Histological and immunohistochemical analyses were performed for measurements of lesion volume, neurovascular remodeling (angiogenesis and neurogenesis), and neuroinflammation. Compared with liposome-treated control, exosome-treatments did not reduce lesion size but significantly improved spatial learning at 33-35 days measured by the Morris water maze test, and sensorimotor functional recovery, i.e., reduced neurological deficits and footfault frequency, observed at 14-35 days post injury (p < 0.05). Exosome treatments significantly increased the number of newborn endothelial cells in the lesion boundary zone and dentate gyrus, and significantly increased the number of newborn mature neurons in the dentate gyrus as well as reduced neuroinflammation. Exosomes derived from hMSCs cultured in 3D scaffolds provided better outcome in spatial learning than exosomes from hMSCs cultured in the 2D condition. In conclusion, hMSC-generated exosomes significantly improve functional recovery in rats after TBI, at least in part, by promoting endogenous angiogenesis and neurogenesis and reducing neuroinflammation. Thus, exosomes derived from hMSCs may be a novel cell-free therapy for TBI, and hMSC-scaffold generated exosomes may selectively enhance spatial learning.
Treatment with exosomes derived from hMSCs significantly reduces the number of activated GFAP + astrocytes and CD68 + microglia/macrophages in the brain of rats sacrificed at day 35 after TBI. GFAP staining for reactive astrocytes (A-H). CD68 staining for activated microglia/macrophages (J-Q). Scale bar = 50 μm (Q). Data in bar graphs (I, R) represent mean ± SD. N = 8/group.