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Cell Physiol Biochem. 2019;52(6):1361-1380. doi: 10.33594/000000096.

BDNF and NT3 Reprogram Human Ectomesenchymal Dental Pulp Stem Cells to Neurogenic and Gliogenic Neural Crest Progenitors Cultured in Serum-Free Medium.

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Department of Cell Biology and Histology, Faculty of Medicine and Nursing, University of the Basque Country, UPV/EHU, Leioa, Spain.
Achucarro Basque Center for Neuroscience, UPV/EHU Scientific Park, Leioa, Spain,
Achucarro Basque Center for Neuroscience, UPV/EHU Scientific Park, Leioa, Spain.
Ikerbasque, The Basque Foundation for Science, Bilbao, Spain.
Laboratoire de Physiologie de la Reproduction et des Comportements UMR 0085 INRA/CNRS/IFCE/Université de Tours, Nouzilly, France.
Department of Cell Biology and Histology, Faculty of Medicine and Nursing, University of the Basque Country, UPV/EHU, Leioa, Spain,



Human Dental Pulp Stem Cells (hDPSCs) are one of the most promising types of cells to regenerate nerve tissues. Standard DMEM+10% fetal bovine serum (FBS) culture medium allows a fast expansion of hDPSC as a surface-adherent cell monolayer. However, the use of FBS also compromises the clinical use of these protocols, and its longterm presence favors hDPSCs differentiation toward mesenchymal cell-derived lineages, at the expense of a reduced capability to generate neural cells. The objective of this work was to characterize the role of neurotrophin signaling on hDPSCs using a serum-free culture protocol, and to assess the neurogenic and gliogenic capacity of hDPSCs for future nerve tissue bioengineering and regeneration.


We compared the different expression of neurotrophin receptors by RT-PCR, Q-PCR, and IF of hDPSCs cultured with different growth media in the presence or absence of serum. Moreover, we assessed the response of hDPSCs to stimulation of neurotransmitter receptors by live cell calcium imaging under these different media. Finally, we compared the osteogenic potential of hDPSCs by Alizarin red staining, and the differentiation to gliogenic/neurogenic fates by immunostaining for Schwann lineage and neuronal lineage markers. We tested a commercial serum-free medium designed for the growth of mesenchymal stem cells: StemPro MSCTM (STP).


hDPSCs cultured in STP generated small non-adherent floating dentospheres that showed very low proliferation rates, in contrast to standard FBS-containing medium. We found that hDPSCs grown in STP conditions overexpressed neurotrophin receptor genes NTRK2 (TrkB) and NTRK3 (TrkC). Interestingly, the stimulation of these receptors by adding their respective ligands BDNF and NT-3 to STP medium enhanced the neural crest (NC) progenitor features of cultured hDPSCs. We observed a 10 to 100-fold increase of migratory NC cell markers HNK1 and P75NTR, and a significant overexpression of pluripotency core factors SOX2, OCT4 and NANOG. Moreover, hDPSCs cultured in BDNF/NT-3 supplemented STP showed a largely increased potential to differentiate towards neuronal and Schwann glial lineage cells, assessed by positive immunostaining for DCX, NeuN and S100ß, p75NTR markers, respectively.


Our results demonstrate that the use of BDNF and NT-3 combined with STP induced the partial reprogramming of ectomesenchymal hDPSCs to generate early NC progenitor cells, which are far more competent for neuronal and glial differentiation than hDPSCs grown in the presence of FBS.


Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor; Calcium imaging; Cell differentiation; Dental Pulp Stem Cells; Serum-free culture media

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Conflict of interest statement

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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