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  1. Abstract

    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 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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  2. A pioneering ds-GapM-LNA nanobiosensor for the monitoring of long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) expression in live cells during the osteogenic and adipogenic differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs).

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 4, 2024
  3. Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) are multipotent progenitor cells with the potential to differentiate into various cell types, including osteoblasts, chondrocytes, and adipocytes. These cells have been extensively employed in the field of cell-based therapies and regenerative medicine due to their inherent attributes of self-renewal and multipotency. Traditional approaches for assessing hMSCs differentiation capacity have relied heavily on labor-intensive techniques, such as RT-PCR, immunostaining, and Western blot, to identify specific biomarkers. However, these methods are not only time-consuming and economically demanding, but also require the fixation of cells, resulting in the loss of temporal data. Consequently, there is an emerging need for a more efficient and precise approach to predict hMSCs differentiation in live cells, particularly for osteogenic and adipogenic differentiation. In response to this need, we developed innovative approaches that combine live-cell imaging with cutting-edge deep learning techniques, specifically employing a convolutional neural network (CNN) to meticulously classify osteogenic and adipogenic differentiation. Specifically, four notable pre-trained CNN models, VGG 19, Inception V3, ResNet 18, and ResNet 50, were developed and tested for identifying adipogenic and osteogenic differentiated cells based on cell morphology changes. We rigorously evaluated the performance of these four models concerning binary and multi-class classification of differentiated cells at various time intervals, focusing on pivotal metrics such as accuracy, the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC), sensitivity, precision, and F1-score. Among these four different models, ResNet 50 has proven to be the most effective choice with the highest accuracy (0.9572 for binary, 0.9474 for multi-class) and AUC (0.9958 for binary, 0.9836 for multi-class) in both multi-class and binary classification tasks. Although VGG 19 matched the accuracy of ResNet 50 in both tasks, ResNet 50 consistently outperformed it in terms of AUC, underscoring its superior effectiveness in identifying differentiated cells. Overall, our study demonstrated the capability to use a CNN approach to predict stem cell fate based on morphology changes, which will potentially provide insights for the application of cell-based therapy and advance our understanding of regenerative medicine.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 30, 2024
  4. The goal of engineering artificial cells is to build a living cell with the least amount of parts and complexity. Artificial cells hold great potential for several applications, including membrane protein interactions, gene expression, biomaterials, and drug development. It is critical to generate robust, stable artificial cells using high throughput, easy-to-control, and flexible techniques. Recently, droplet-based microfluidic techniques have shown great potential for the synthesis of vesicles and artificial cells. Here, we summarized the recent advances in droplet-based microfluidic techniques for the fabrication of vesicles and artificial cells. We first reviewed the different types of droplet-based microfluidic devices, including flow-focusing, T-junction, and coflowing. Next, we discussed the formation of multi-compartmental vesicles and artificial cells based on droplet-based microfluidics. The applications of artificial cells for studying gene expression dynamics, artificial cell-cell communications, and mechanobiology are highlighted and discussed. Finally, the current challenges and future outlook of droplet-based microfluidic methods for engineering artificial cells are discussed. This review will provide insights into scientific research in synthetic biology, microfluidic devices, membrane interactions, and mechanobiology. 
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  5. The investigation of complex biological processes requires effective tools for probing the spatiotemporal dynamics of individual cells. Single-cell gene expression analysis, such as RNA in situ hybridization and single-cell PCR, has been demonstrated in various biological applications (Tautz and Pfeifle, Chromosoma 98(2):81–5, 1989; Stahlberg and Bengtsson, Methods 50(4):282–288, 2010; Sanchez-Freire et al., Nat Protoc 7(5):829–838, 2012). However, existing techniques require cell lysis or fixation. The dynamic information and spatiotemporal regulation of the biological process cannot be obtained with these methods. Real-time gene expression analysis in living cells remains an outstanding challenge in the field. Here, we described a single-cell gene expression analysis method in living mammalian cells using a locked nucleic acid/DNA (LNA/DNA) nanobiosensor. This LNA/DNA nanobiosensor consists of a fluorophore-labeled detecting strand and a quenching strand. The fluorophore-labeled LNA probe is designed to hybridize with the target microRNA (miRNA) specifically and displace from the quenching strand, allowing the fluorophore to fluorescence. Large-scale single-cell dynamic gene expression monitoring can be performed using time-lapse microscopy to study spatiotemporal distribution and heterogeneity in gene expression. Multiplex detection of miRNAs can be achieved using different fluorophore-labeled LNA/DNA nanobiosensors. This LNA/DNA protocol is fast, generally applicable, and easily accessible. 
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  6. Osteoporosis is a common bone and metabolic disease that is characterized by bone density loss and microstructural degeneration. Human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) are multipotent progenitor cells with the potential to differentiate into various cell types, including osteoblasts, chondrocytes, and adipocytes, which have been utilized extensively in the field of bone tissue engineering and cell-based therapy. Although fluid shear stress plays an important role in bone osteogenic differentiation, the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying this effect remain poorly understood. Here, a locked nucleic acid (LNA)/DNA nanobiosensor was exploited to monitor mRNA gene expression of hMSCs that were exposed to physiologically relevant fluid shear stress to examine the regulatory role of Notch signaling during osteogenic differentiation. First, the effects of fluid shear stress on cell viability, proliferation, morphology, and osteogenic differentiation were investigated and compared. Our results showed shear stress modulates hMSCs morphology and osteogenic differentiation depending on the applied shear and duration. By incorporating this LNA/DNA nanobiosensor and alkaline phosphatase (ALP) staining, we further investigated the role of Notch signaling in regulating osteogenic differentiation. Pharmacological treatment is applied to disrupt Notch signaling to investigate the mechanisms that govern shear stress induced osteogenic differentiation. Our experimental results provide convincing evidence supporting that physiologically relevant shear stress regulates osteogenic differentiation through Notch signaling. Inhibition of Notch signaling mediates the effects of shear stress on osteogenic differentiation, with reduced ALP enzyme activity and decreased Dll4 mRNA expression. In conclusion, our results will add new information concerning osteogenic differentiation of hMSCs under shear stress and the regulatory role of Notch signaling. Further studies may elucidate the mechanisms underlying the mechanosensitive role of Notch signaling in stem cell differentiation. 
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