Human adult dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs) reside within the perivascular niche of dental pulp and are thought to originate from migrating cranial neural crest (CNC) cells. During embryonic development, CNC cells differentiate into a wide variety of cell types, including neurons of the peripheral nervous system. Previously, we have demonstrated that DPSCs derived from adult human third molar teeth differentiate into cell types reminiscent of CNC embryonic ontology. We hypothesized that DPSCs exposed to the appropriate environmental cues would differentiate into functionally active neurons. The data demonstrated that ex vivo-expanded human adult DPSCs responded to neuronal inductive conditions both in vitro and in vivo. Human adult DPSCs, but not human foreskin fibroblasts (HFFs), acquired a neuronal morphology, and expressed neuronal-specific markers at both the gene and protein levels. Culture-expanded DPSCs also exhibited the capacity to produce a sodium current consistent with functional neuronal cells when exposed to neuronal inductive media. Furthermore, the response of human DPSCs and HFFs to endogenous neuronal environmental cues was determined in vivo using an avian xenotransplantation assay. DPSCs expressed neuronal markers and acquired a neuronal morphology following transplantation into the mesencephalon of embryonic day-2 chicken embryo, whereas HFFs maintained a thin spindle fibroblastic morphology. We propose that adult human DPSCs provide a readily accessible source of exogenous stem/precursor cells that have the potential for use in cell-therapeutic paradigms to treat neurological disease.
Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is found at the end of this article.