Single-cell RNA-seq of out-of-thaw mesenchymal stromal cells shows tissue-of-origin differences and inter-donor cell-cycle variations.



Human Mesenchymal stromal cells (hMSCs) from various tissue sources are widely investigated in clinical trials. These MSCs are often administered to patients immediately after thawing the cryopreserved product (out-of-thaw), yet little is known about the single-cell transcriptomic landscape and tissue-specific differences of out-of-thaw human MSCs.


13 hMSC samples derived from 10 "healthy" donors were used to assess donor variability and tissue-of-origin differences in single-cell gene expression profiles. hMSCs derived and expanded from the bone marrow (BM) or cord tissue (CT) underwent controlled-rate freezing for 24 h. Cells were then transferred to the vapor phase of liquid nitrogen for cryopreservation. hMSCs cryopreserved for at least one week, were characterized immediately after thawing using a droplet-based single-cell RNA sequencing method. Data analysis was performed with SC3 and SEURAT pipelines followed by gene ontology analysis.


scRNA-seq analysis of the hMSCs revealed two major clusters of donor profiles, which differ in immune-signaling, cell surface properties, abundance of cell-cycle related transcripts, and metabolic pathways of interest. Within-sample transcriptomic heterogeneity is low. We identified numerous differentially expressed genes (DEGs) that are associated with various cellular functions, such as cytokine signaling, cell proliferation, cell adhesion, cholesterol/steroid biosynthesis, and regulation of apoptosis. Gene-set enrichment analyses indicated different functional pathways in BM vs. CT hMSCs. In addition, MSC-batches showed significant variations in cell cycle status, suggesting different proliferative vs. immunomodulatory potential. Several potential transcript-markers for tissue source differences were identified for further investigation in future studies. In functional assays, both BM and CT MSCs suppressed macrophage TNFα secretion upon interferon stimulation. However, differences between donors, tissue-of-origin, and cell cycle are evident in both TNF suppression and cytokine secretion.


This study shows that donor differences in hMSC transcriptome are minor relative to the intrinsic differences in tissue-of-origin. hMSCs with different transcriptomic profiles showed potential differences in functional characteristics. These findings contribute to our understanding of tissue origin-based differences in out-of-thaw therapeutic hMSC products and assist in the identification of cells with immune-regulatory or survival potential from a heterogeneous MSC population. Our results form the basis of future studies in correlating single-cell transcriptomic markers with immunomodulatory functions.





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Publication Info

Medrano-Trochez, Camila, Paramita Chatterjee, Pallab Pradhan, Hazel Y Stevens, Molly E Ogle, Edward A Botchwey, Joanne Kurtzberg, Carolyn Yeago, et al. (2021). Single-cell RNA-seq of out-of-thaw mesenchymal stromal cells shows tissue-of-origin differences and inter-donor cell-cycle variations. Stem cell research & therapy, 12(1). p. 565. 10.1186/s13287-021-02627-9 Retrieved from

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Joanne Kurtzberg

Jerome S. Harris Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics

Dr. Kurtzberg is an internationally renowned expert in pediatric hematology/oncology, pediatric blood and marrow transplantation, umbilical cord blood banking and transplantation, and novel applications of cord blood and birthing tissues in the emerging fields of cellular therapies and regenerative medicine.   Dr. Kurtzberg serves as the Director of the Marcus Center for Cellular Cures (MC3), Director of the Pediatric Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program, Director of the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, and Co-Director of the Stem Cell Transplant Laboratory at Duke University.  The Carolinas Cord Blood Bank is an FDA licensed public cord blood bank distributing unrelated cord blood units for donors for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) through the CW Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program.  The Robertson GMP Cell Manufacturing Laboratory supports manufacturing of RETHYMIC (BLA, Enzyvant, 2021), allogeneic cord tissue derived and bone marrow derived mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs), and DUOC, a microglial/macrophage cell derived from cord blood.

Dr. Kurtzberg’s research in MC3 focuses on translational studies from bench to bedside, seeking to develop transformative clinical therapies using cells, tissues, molecules, genes, and biomaterials to treat diseases and injuries that currently lack effective treatments. Recent areas of investigation in MC3 include clinical trials investigating the safety and efficacy of autologous and allogeneic cord blood in children with neonatal brain injury – hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy (CP), and autism. Clinical trials testing allogeneic cord blood are also being conducted in adults with acute ischemic stroke. Clinical trials optimizing manufacturing and testing the safety and efficacy of cord tissue MSCs in children with autism, CP and HIE and adults with COVID-lung disease are underway. DUOC, given intrathecally, is under study in children with leukodystrophies and adults with primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

In the past, Dr. Kurtzberg has developed novel chemotherapeutic drugs for acute leukemias, assays enumerating ALDH bright cells to predict cord blood unit potency, methods of cord blood expansion, potency assays for targeted cell and tissue based therapies. Dr. Kurtzberg currently holds several INDs for investigational clinical trials from the FDA.  She has also trained numerous medical students, residents, clinical and post-doctoral fellows over the course of her career.

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