Analysis of Biodistribution and Engraftment Into the Liver of Genetically Modified Mesenchymal Stromal Cells Derived From Adipose Tissue
Presently, orthotopic liver transplant is the major therapeutic option for patients affected by primary liver diseases. This procedure is characterized by major invasive surgery, scarcity of donor organs, high costs, and lifelong immunosuppressive treatment. Transplant of hepatic precursor cells represents an attractive alternative. These cells could be used either for allogeneic transplantation or for autologous transplant after ex vivo genetic modification. We used stromal cells isolated from adipose tissue (AT-SCs) as platforms for autologous cell-mediated gene therapy. AT-SCs were transduced with lentiviral vectors expressing firefly luciferase, allowing for transplanted cell tracking by bioluminescent imaging (BLI). As a complementary approach, we followed circulating human α1-antitrypsin (hAAT) levels after infusion of AT-SCs overexpressing hAAT. Cells were transplanted into syngeneic mice after CCl₄-induced hepatic injury. Luciferase bioluminescence signals and serum hAAT levels were measured at different time points after transplantation and demonstrate persistence of transplanted cells for up to 2 months after administration. These data, along with immunohistochemical analysis, suggest engraftment and repopulation of injured livers by transplanted AT-SCs. Moreover, by transcriptional targeting using cellular tissue-specific regulatory sequences we confirmed that AT-SCs differentiate towards a hepatogenic-like phenotype in vitro and in vivo. Additionally, in transplanted cells re-isolated from recipient animals ' livers we detected activation of the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) promoter. This promoter is normally transcriptionally silenced in adult tissues but can be re-activated during liver regeneration, suggesting commitment towards hepatogenic-like differentiation of engrafted cells in vivo. Our data support AT-SC cell-mediated gene therapy as an innovative therapeutic option for disorders of liver metabolism.