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Umbilical cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells consist of a unique population of progenitors co-expressing mesenchymal stem cell and neuronal markers capable of instantaneous neuronal differentiation

Mundackal S Divya1, George E Roshin2, Thulasi S Divya1, Vazhanthodi Abdul Rasheed1, Thankayyan R Santhoshkumar3, Kandathil E Elizabeth2, Jackson James1* and Radhakrishna M Pillai3

Author Affiliations

1 Neuro-Stem Cell Biology Laboratory, Department of Neurobiology, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695 014, India

2 Sree Avittom Thirunal Hospital for Women & Children, Government Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695 011, India

3 Cancer Research Program, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695 014, India

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Stem Cell Research & Therapy 2012, 3:57  doi:10.1186/scrt148

Published: 19 December 2012



Umbilical cord blood (UCB)-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are self-renewing multipotent progenitors with the potential to differentiate into multiple lineages of mesoderm, in addition to generating ectodermal and endodermal lineages by crossing the germline barrier. In the present study we have investigated the ability of UCB-MSCs to generate neurons, since we were able to observe varying degrees of neuronal differentiation from a few batches of UCB-MSCs with very simple neuronal induction protocols whereas other batches required extensive exposure to combination of growth factors in a stepwise protocol. Our hypothesis was therefore that the human UCB-MSCs would contain multiple types of progenitors with varying neurogenic potential and that the ratio of the progenitors with high and low neurogenic potentials varies in different batches of UCB.


In total we collected 45 UCB samples, nine of which generated MSCs that were further expanded and characterized using immunofluorescence, fluorescence-activated cell sorting and RT-PCR analysis. The neuronal differentiation potential of the UCB-MSCs was analyzed with exposure to combination of growth factors.


We could identify two different populations of progenitors within the UCB-MSCs. One population represented progenitors with innate neurogenic potential that initially express pluripotent stem cell markers such as Oct4, Nanog, Sox2, ABCG2 and neuro-ectodermal marker nestin and are capable of expanding and differentiating into neurons with exposure to simple neuronal induction conditions. The remaining population of cells, typically expressing MSC markers, requires extensive exposure to a combination of growth factors to transdifferentiate into neurons. Interesting to note was that both of these cell populations were positive for CD29 and CD105, indicating their MSC lineage, but showed prominent difference in their neurogenic potential.


Our results suggest that the expanded UCB-derived MSCs harbor a small unique population of cells that express pluripotent stem cell markers along with MSC markers and possess an inherent neurogenic potential. These pluripotent progenitors later generate cells expressing neural progenitor markers and are responsible for the instantaneous neuronal differentiation; the ratio of these pluripotent marker expressing cells in a batch determines the innate neurogenic potential.