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Wharton’s Jelly Transplantation Improves Neurologic Function in a Rat Model of Traumatic Brain Injury


Traumatic brain injury (TBI), which can lead to disability, dysfunction, and even death, is a prominent health problem worldwide. Effective therapy for this serious and debilitating condition is needed. Human umbilical cord matrix, known as Wharton’s jelly (WJ), provides a natural, interface scaffold that is enriched in mesenchymal stem cells. In this study, we tested the efficacy of WJ tissue transplantation in a weight-drop model of TBI in rats. WJ tissue was cultured and transplanted into the injury site 24 h after TBI. The modified neurologic severity score, body weight, brain edema, and lesion volume were evaluated at various time points after TBI. Cognitive behavior was assessed by the novel object recognition test and the Morris water maze test. Expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the perilesional brain area was measured at day 14 after TBI. We found that WJ tissue transplantation lessened TBI-induced brain edema (day 3), reduced lesion volume (day 28), improved neurologic function (days 21–28), and promoted memory and cognitive recovery. Additionally, expression of BDNF mRNA and protein was higher in WJ tissue-treated rats than in sham-operated or vehicle-treated rats. These data suggest that WJ tissue transplantation can reduce TBI-induced brain injury and may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of TBI.

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This study was supported by Natural Science Foundation of China  (81471306, U1404313), Innovative Research Team (in Science and Technology) and NIH K01AG031926, R01NS078026, and R01AT007317. T.C. is the recipient of the China Scholarship Council Joint PhD Training award. We thank Jiarui Wang and Claire Levine for assistance with this manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

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Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Fangxia Guan or Jian Wang.

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Supplementary Fig.1. Human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cell (hUC-MSC) phenotype analyzed by flow cytometry. hUC-MSCs expressed high levels of matrix marker CD44 and integrin marker CD29 (A). The cells did not express hematopoietic lineage markers (CD34, CD133, or CD45) or HLA-DR (MHCII), which are closely related to graft-versus-host disease (B, C). (TIFF 956 kb)

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Cite this article

Cheng, T., Yang, B., Li, D. et al. Wharton’s Jelly Transplantation Improves Neurologic Function in a Rat Model of Traumatic Brain Injury. Cell Mol Neurobiol 35, 641–649 (2015).

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  • Cognition
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Wharton’s jelly
  • Transplantation
  • BDNF