Cellular and Molecular Biology



Umbilical cord revisited: from Wharton’s jelly myofibroblasts to mesenchymal stem cells

Simona Corrao1,2*, Giampiero La Rocca1,2*, Melania Lo Iacono1,2, Tiziana Corsello1,2, Felicia Farina1 and Rita Anzalone1

1Human Anatomy Section, Department of Experimental Biomedicine and Clinical Neurosciences, University of
Palermo, Palermo, Italy and 2Euro-Mediterranean Institute of Science and Technology (IEMEST), Palermo, Italy
*Equal contributors.

Offprint requests to: Dr. Giampiero La Rocca, Sezione di Anatomia Umana, Dipartimento di Biomedicina Sperimentale e Neuroscienze Cliniche, Università degli Studi di Palermo, Via del Vespro 129, 90127 Palermo, Italy. e-mail: giampylr@hotmail.com; giampiero.larocca@unipa.it

Summary. The umbilical cord (UC) is an essential part of the placenta, contributing to foetal development by ensuring the blood flow between mother and foetus. The UC is formed within the first weeks of gestation by the enclosure of the vessels (one vein and two arteries) into a bulk of mucous connective tissue, named Wharton’s jelly (WJ) and lined by the umbilical epithelium. Since their first identification, cells populating WJ were described as unusual fibroblasts (or myofibroblasts). Recent literature data further highlighted the functional interconnection between UC and the resident cells. The UC represents a reservoir of progenitor populations which are collectively grouped into MSCs (mesenchymal stem cells). Such cells have been sourced from each component of the cord, namely the sub-amnion layer, the WJ, the perivascular region, and the vessels. These cells mainly show adherence to the phenotype of adult MSCs (as bone marrow-derived ones) and can differentiate towards mature cell types belonging to all the three germ layers. In addition, cells from human UC are derived from an immunoprivileged organ, namely the placenta: in fact, its development and function depend on the elusion of the maternal immune response towards the semi-allogeneic embryo. This is reflected in the expression of immunomodulatory molecules by UC-derived MSCs. The present paper describes UC structural features and the cell types which can be derived, with a focus on their phenotype and the novel results which boosted the use of UC-derived cells for regenerative medicine applications
. Histol Histopathol 28, 1235-1244 (2013)

Key words: Umbilical cord, Wharton’s jelly, Mesenchymal stem cells, Extracellular matrix, Immunomodulatory markers, Stromal myofibroblasts