Formation of functional gap junctions in amniotic fluid-derived stem cells induced by transmembrane co-culture with neonatal rat cardiomyocytes


Correspondence to: Jeffrey G. JACOT, Department of Bioengineering, Rice University, 6100 Main St. – MS 142, Houston, TX 77005, USA.

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Amniotic fluid-derived stem cells (AFSC) have been reported to differentiate into cardiomyocyte-like cells and form gap junctions when directly mixed and cultured with neonatal rat ventricular myocytes (NRVM). This study investigated whether or not culture of AFSC on the opposite side of a Transwell membrane from NRVM, allowing for contact and communication without confounding factors such as cell fusion, could direct cardiac differentiation and enhance gap junction formation. Results were compared to shared media (Transwell), conditioned media and monoculture media controls. After a 2-week culture period, AFSC did not express cardiac myosin heavy chain or troponin T in any co-culture group. Protein expression of cardiac calsequestrin 2 was up-regulated in direct transmembrane co-cultures and media control cultures compared to the other experimental groups, but all groups were up-regulated compared with undifferentiated AFSC cultures. Gap junction communication, assessed with a scrape-loading dye transfer assay, was significantly increased in direct transmembrane co-cultures compared to all other conditions. Gap junction communication corresponded with increased connexin 43 gene expression and decreased phosphorylation of connexin 43. Our results suggest that direct transmembrane co-culture does not induce cardiomyocyte differentiation of AFSC, though calsequestrin expression is increased. However, direct transmembrane co-culture does enhance connexin-43-mediated gap junction communication between AFSC.