Molecular Imaging and Biology

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 31–40 | Cite as

In Vivo Bioluminescence Imaging of Transplanted Mesenchymal Stromal Cells and Their Rejection Mediated by Intrahepatic NK Cells

  • Jing-jing Liu
  • Xiao-jun Hu
  • Zheng-ran Li
  • Rong-hua Yan
  • Dan Li
  • Jin Wang
  • Hong ShanEmail author
Research Article



Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) hold promise in the treatment of liver disease. However, short survival time of MSCs after intrahepatic transplantation limits their value; therefore, understanding the basis of MSCs survival and rejection may increase their utility. This study was aimed at determining the role of intrahepatic natural killer (NK) cells on MSCs survival and their retention in the liver shortly after transplant.


Human MSCs were labeled with the Luc2-mKate2 dual-fusion reporter gene (MSCs-R), and the residence time and survival of MSCs-R xenografts after intrahepatic transplantation were evaluated by in vivo bioluminescence imaging (BLI). Coculture of MSCs and NK cells was performed to assess cytotoxicity. To evaluate the role of NK cells in rejection of the xenografted cells, the fates of transplanted MSCs-R were then assessed in vivo by BLI after activation of intrahepatic NK cells.


We observed a linear correlation between luciferase activity from live MSCs-R and cell number in vitro (R 2 = 0.9956). In vivo, we observed a gradual decline in bioluminescent signals from transplanted MSCs-R over a region corresponding to the liver in both the control group and the NK-activated group. However, the survival time and retention of intrahepatic MSCs-R decreased more rapidly in the NK-activated group of mice compared to the control group. This indicated that activated NK cells accelerate the elimination of transplanted MSCs. Also, we found that the number of hepatic NK cells and the expression of NK activation markers significantly increased after intrahepatic delivery of MSCs. This suggested that resident NK cells, in a resting state, were activated by intrahepatic transplantation of human MSCs. Taken together, the data suggests that activated hepatic NK cells mediate, in part, rejection of the MSCs xenografts. Cytotoxicity assays showed that activated NK cells may inhibit the proliferation of MSCs and, to a certain extent, induce MSCs death.


Human MSCs could be followed dynamically in vivo by BLI, and the role of murine hepatic NK cells, especially activated NK cells, could be inferred from the loss of signals from MSCs. This finding may have practical clinical implications in MSCs transplantation in treating liver disease.

Key words

Immune rejection Mesenchymal stem cells Xenograft Bioluminescence imaging Liver disease 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. U1032002, 81430041, 81271621, 81071206, 81271562) and Key Clinical Research Project of Public Health Ministry of China 2010–2012 (No. 164).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© World Molecular Imaging Society 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jing-jing Liu
    • 1
  • Xiao-jun Hu
    • 2
  • Zheng-ran Li
    • 3
  • Rong-hua Yan
    • 3
  • Dan Li
    • 2
  • Jin Wang
    • 3
  • Hong Shan
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of RadiologyThe First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou UniversityZhengzhouChina
  2. 2.Guangdong Provincial Engineering Research Center of Molecular ImagingThe Fifth Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen UniversityZhuhaiChina
  3. 3.Department of RadiologyThe Third Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouChina
  4. 4.Center for Interventional MedicineThe Fifth Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen UniversityZhuhaiChina
  5. 5.Institute of Interventional Radiology of Sun Yat-sen UniversityZhuhaiChina

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