Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have shown promise as therapeutic agents in treating morbidities associated with premature birth. MSCs derived from the human umbilical cord are easy to isolate and have low immunogenicity and a robust ability to secrete paracrine factors. To date, there are no studies evaluating preterm versus term umbilical cord tissue-derived MSCs. Therefore, our aim was twofold: (1) to compare stem cell properties in preterm versus term MSCs and (2) to examine the impact of oxygen tension on stem cell behavior. Umbilical cord tissue was obtained from 5 preterm and 5 term neonates. The cells were isolated and characterized as MSCs in accordance with the International Society for Cellular Therapy. We exposed MSCs to different oxygen tensions to examine the impact of environmental factors on cell performance. We studied the following stem cell properties: (i) motility, (ii) proliferation, (iii) senescence, (iv) cell viability, (v) colony-forming unit efficiency, and (vi) inflammatory cytokine expression. Under normoxia (21% O2), cells from preterm and term infants had similar properties. Under hypoxic conditions (1% O2), term MSCs had better cell proliferation; however, cells exposed to hyperoxia (90% O2) had the slowest motility and lowest cell viability (p < 0.05). There was no difference in the expression of senescence or cytokine expression between the groups. The term cells demonstrated more colony-forming efficiency than the preterm cells. In sum, our preliminary findings suggest that MSCs derived from term and preterm umbilical cords have similar characteristics, offering the potential of future autologous/allogeneic MSC transplants in neonates.
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