Objectives: To explore the role of Oct3/4, Nanog and Sox2 in regeneration of rat tracheal epithelium.
Materials and methods: An ex vivo model of rat tracheal epithelial regeneration using 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) was developed, to induce injury. Expression levels of Oct3/4, Nanog and Sox2 were examined using Western blot analysis, RT-PCR or microscopically observed immunofluorescence, and cell morphological changes were observed using HE staining, during the recovery process.
Results: Oct3/4, Nanog and Sox2 were not detectable in normal tracheal epithelium. After treatment with 5-FU, the normally proliferating tracheal epithelium desquamated and only a few cells in G0 phase of the cell cycle were left on the basement membrane and Oct3/4, Nanog and Sox2 could be observed at this time. Thereafter, the number of Oct3/4-, Nanog- and Sox2-positive cells increased gradually. When the cells differentiated into ciliate cells, mucous cells or basal cells, and restored pseudostratified mucociliary epithelium, the number of Oct3/4-, Nanog- and Sox2-positive cells decreased and gradually disappeared.
Conclusions: G0 phase cells with resistance to 5-FU damage expressed Oct3/4, Nanog and Sox2. This indicated that these cells were undifferentiated, but had the ability to terminally differentiate into downstream-type cells. They possessed stem cell properties. The results are consistent with Oct3/4, Nanog and Sox2-expressing cells being considered as tracheal stem cells.