Interactions of human mesenchymal stromal cells with peripheral blood mononuclear cells in a Mitogenic proliferation assay

Maryanne C. Herzig*, Barbara A. Christy, Robbie K. Montgomery, Christopher P. Delavan, Katherine J. Jensen, Sarah E. Lovelace, Carolina Cantu, Christi L. Salgado, Andrew P. Cap, James A. Bynum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Immunomodulation by mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) is a potentially important therapeutic modality. MSCs suppress peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) proliferation in vitro, suggesting a mechanism for suppressing inflammatory responses in vivo. This study details the interactions of PBMCs and MSCs. Methods: Pooled human PBMCs and MSCs were co-cultured at different MSC:PBMC ratios and harvested from 0 to 120 h, with and without phytohaemagglutin A (PHA) stimulation. Proliferation of adherent MSCs and non-adherent PBMCs was assessed by quantitation of ATP levels. PBMC surface marker expression was analyzed by flow cytometry. Indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) activity was determined by kynurenine assay and IDO mRNA by RT-PCR. Cytokine release was measured by ELISA. Immunofluorescent microscopy detected MSC, PBMC, monocyte (CD14+) and apoptotic events. Results: PBMC proliferation in response to PHA gave a robust ATP signal by 72 h, which was suppressed by co-culture with densely plated MSCs. Very low level MSC seeding densities relative to PBMC number reproducibly stimulated PBMC proliferation. The CD4+/CD3+ population significantly decreased over time while the CD8+/CD3+ population significantly increased. No change in CD4+/CD8+ ratio is seen with high density MSC co-culture; very low density MSCs augment the changes seen in PHA stimulated PBMCs alone. IDO activity in MSCs co-cultured with PBMCs correlated with PBMC suppression. MSCs increased the secretion of IL-10 and IL-6 from stimulated co-cultures and decreased TNF-α secretion. In stimulated co-culture, low density MSCs decreased in number; fluorescence immunomicroscopy detected association of PBMC with MSC and phosphatidyl serine externalization in both cell populations. Conclusions: A bidirectional interaction between MSCs and PBMCs occurs during co-culture. High numbers of MSCs inhibit PHA-stimulated PBMC proliferation and the PBMC response to stimulation; low numbers of MSCs augment these responses. Low density MSCs are susceptible to attrition, apparently by PBMC-induced apoptosis. These results may have direct application when considering therapeutic dosing of patients; low MSC doses may have unintended detrimental consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113000
JournalJournal of Immunological Methods
StatePublished - May 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Immunomodulation
  • Interactions
  • Mesenchymal stromal cells
  • PBMC
  • Stem


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