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Title: Probing Notch1-Dll4 signaling in regulating osteogenic differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells using single cell nanobiosensor

Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) have great potential in cell-based therapies for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine due to their self-renewal and multipotent properties. Recent studies indicate that Notch1-Dll4 signaling is an important pathway in regulating osteogenic differentiation of hMSCs. However, the fundamental mechanisms that govern osteogenic differentiation are poorly understood due to a lack of effective tools to detect gene expression at single cell level. Here, we established a double-stranded locked nucleic acid (LNA)/DNA (LNA/DNA) nanobiosensor for gene expression analysis in single hMSC in both 2D and 3D microenvironments. We first characterized this LNA/DNA nanobiosensor and demonstrated the Dll4 mRNA expression dynamics in hMSCs during osteogenic differentiation. By incorporating this nanobiosensor with live hMSCs imaging during osteogenic induction, we performed dynamic tracking of hMSCs differentiation and Dll4 mRNA gene expression profiles of individual hMSC during osteogenic induction. Our results showed the dynamic expression profile of Dll4 during osteogenesis, indicating the heterogeneity of hMSCs during this dynamic process. We further investigated the role of Notch1-Dll4 signaling in regulating hMSCs during osteogenic differentiation. Pharmacological perturbation is applied to disrupt Notch1-Dll4 signaling to investigate the molecular mechanisms that govern osteogenic differentiation. In addition, the effects of Notch1-Dll4 signaling on hMSCs spheroids more » differentiation were also investigated. Our results provide convincing evidence supporting that Notch1-Dll4 signaling is involved in regulating hMSCs osteogenic differentiation. Specifically, Notch1-Dll4 signaling is active during osteogenic differentiation. Our results also showed that Dll4 is a molecular signature of differentiated hMSCs during osteogenic induction. Notch inhibition mediated osteogenic differentiation with reduced Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP) activity. Lastly, we elucidated the role of Notch1-Dll4 signaling during osteogenic differentiation in a 3D spheroid model. Our results showed that Notch1-Dll4 signaling is required and activated during osteogenic differentiation in hMSCs spheroids. Inhibition of Notch1-Dll4 signaling mediated osteogenic differentiation and enhanced hMSCs proliferation, with increased spheroid sizes. Taken together, the capability of LNA/DNA nanobiosensor to probe gene expression dynamics during osteogenesis, combined with the engineered 2D/3D microenvironment, enables us to study in detail the role of Notch1-Dll4 signaling in regulating osteogenesis in 2D and 3D microenvironment. These findings will provide new insights to improve cell-based therapies and organ repair techniques.

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Scientific Reports
Nature Publishing Group
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National Science Foundation
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