A novel direct co-culture assay analyzed by multicolor flow cytometry reveals context- and cell type-specific immunomodulatory effects of equine mesenchymal stromal cells
The immunomodulatory potential of multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC) provides a basis for current and future regenerative therapies. In this study, we established an approach that allows to address the effects of pro-inflammatory stimulation and co-culture with MSC on different specific leukocyte subpopulations. Equine peripheral blood leukocyte recovery was optimized to preserve all leukocyte subpopulations and leukocyte activation regimes were evaluated. Allogeneic labeled equine adipose-derived MSC were then subjected to direct co-culture with either non-stimulated, concanavalin A (ConA)-activated or phosphate 12-myristate 13-acetate and ionomycin (PMA/I)-activated leukocytes. Subsequently, production of the cytokines interferon-g (IFN- g), interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor-a (TNF-a) and presence of FoxP3 were determined in specific cell populations using multicolor flow cytometry. Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) was measured in the supernatants. ConA-stimulation induced mild activation of leukocytes, whereas PMA/I-stimulation led to strong activation. In T cells, PMA/I promoted production of all cytokines, with no distinct suppressive effects of MSC. However, increased numbers of CD25/FoxP3-positive cells indicated that MSC supported regulatory T cell differentiation in PMA/I-activated leukocyte cultures. MSC also reduced numbers of cytokine-producing B cells and granulocytes, mostly irrespective of preceding leukocyte activation, and reversed the stimulatory effect of ConA on IFN-g production in monocytes. Illustrating the possible suppressive mechanisms, higher numbers of MSC produced IL-10 when co-cultured with non-stimulated or ConA-activated leukocytes. This was not observed in co-culture with PMA/I-activated leukocytes. However, PGE2 concentration in the supernatant was highest in the co-culture with PMA/I-activated leukocytes, suggesting that PGE2 could still mediate modulatory effects in strongly inflammatory environment. These context- and cell type-specific modulatory effects observed give insight into the interactions between MSC and different types of immune cells and highlight the roles of IL-10 and PGE2 in MSC-mediated immunomodulation. The approach presented could provide a basis for further functional MSC characterization and the development of potency assays.