Background: Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent cells with broad immunosuppressive capacities. Recently, it has been reported that MSCs can transfer mitochondria to various cell types, including fibroblast, cancer, and endothelial cells. It has been suggested that mitochondrial transfer is associated with a physiological response to cues released by damaged cells to restore and regenerate damaged tissue. However, the role of mitochondrial transfer to immune competent cells has been poorly investigated. Methods and results: Here, we analyzed the capacity of MSCs from the bone marrow (BM) of healthy donors (BM-MSCs) to transfer mitochondria to primary CD4+CCR6+CD45RO+ T helper 17 (Th17) cells by confocal microscopy and fluorescent-activated cell sorting (FACS). We then evaluated the Th17 cell inflammatory phenotype and bioenergetics at 4 h and 24 h of co-culture with BM-MSCs. We found that Th17 cells can take up mitochondria from BM-MSCs already after 4 h of co-culture. Moreover, IL-17 production by Th17 cells co-cultured with BM-MSCs was significantly impaired in a contact-dependent manner. This inhibition was associated with oxygen consumption increase by Th17 cells and interconversion into T regulatory cells. Finally, by co-culturing human synovial MSCs (sMSCs) from patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with Th17 cells, we found that compared with healthy BM-MSCs, mitochondrial transfer to Th17 cells was impaired in RA-sMSCs. Moreover, artificial mitochondrial transfer also significantly reduced IL-17 production by Th17 cells. Conclusions: The present study brings some insights into a novel mechanism of T cell function regulation through mitochondrial transfer from stromal stem cells. The reduced mitochondrial transfer by RA-sMSCs might contribute to the persistence of chronic inflammation in RA synovitis.
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© 2019 The Author(s).