Changes in Stemness Properties, Differentiation Potential, Oxidative Stress, Senescence and Mitochondrial Function in Wharton’s Jelly Stem Cells of Umbilical Cords of Mothers with Gestational Diabetes Mellitus


Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) has been associated with an increased risk of maternal and neonatal morbidity. The Wharton’s jelly (WJ) of the umbilical cord (UC) is a useful indicator of the deleterious effects of hyperglycemia on fetal tissues as it represents the fetus embryologically, physiologically and genetically. We studied WJ mesenchymal stem cells (hWJSCs) from UC from mothers without GDM (Normal; n = 3); insulin-controlled GDM mothers (GDMi; n = 3) and diet-controlled GDM mothers (GDMd; n = 3)]. Cell proliferation, stemness markers, telomerase, osteogenic and chondrogenic differentiation, antioxidant enzymes and gene expression for mitochondrial function (ND2, TFAM, PGC1α, and NDUFB9) were significantly lower in GDMi-hWJSCs and GDMd-hWJSCs compared to normal hWJSCs (P < 0.05). On the other hand, cell cycle inhibitors (p16, p21, p27) and p53 were remarkably up-regulated in GDMi-hWJSCs and GDMd-hWJSCs compared to normal hWJSCs. The results from this study confirmed that maternal hyperglycemia even though managed with insulin or diet, induced changes in the properties of the WJ and its cells. These changes may also be observed in fetal tissues and if true, prevention of the onset of gestational diabetes should be a priority over management. Generation of tissues that simulate those of the fetus such as pancreatic and cardiovascular cells from GDM-hWJSCs by direct differentiation or via induced pluripotent stem cell reprogramming provide possible platforms to evaluate the effects of glucose on specific fetal organ.

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The authors thank Ms. Cecille Arquillo Laureano, Ms. Cynthia Zapata Tagarino and Ms. Maylene Tan Zipagan for their assistance.


This work was supported by National University Health System (NUHS) Aspiration Fund (Partner category) [R-174-000-156-720], NUHS Aspiration Fund (New Idea) [R-174-000-155-720] and National Medical Research Council (NMRC) Bedside and Bench Grant [R-174-000-160-511].

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Correspondence to Ariff Bongso or Chui-Yee Fong.

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Kong, C., Subramanian, A., Biswas, A. et al. Changes in Stemness Properties, Differentiation Potential, Oxidative Stress, Senescence and Mitochondrial Function in Wharton’s Jelly Stem Cells of Umbilical Cords of Mothers with Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Stem Cell Rev and Rep 15, 415–426 (2019).

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  • Gestational diabetes mellitus
  • Wharton’s jelly-derived mesenchymal stem cells
  • Insulin
  • Diet, Stemness
  • Trilineage differentiation
  • Oxidative stress
  • Senescence
  • Mitochondrial function