Exosomes from acellular Wharton’s jelly of the human umbilical cord promote skin wound healing

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Background: Compromised wound healing has become a global public health challenge which presents a significant psychological, financial, and emotional burden on patients and physicians. We recently reported that acellular gelatinous Wharton’s jelly of the human umbilical cord enhances skin wound healing in vitro and in vivo in a murine model; however, the key player in the jelly which enhances wound healing is still unknown.

Methods: We performed mass spectrometry on acellular gelatinous Wharton’s jelly to elucidate the chemical structures of the molecules. Using an ultracentrifugation protocol, we isolated exosomes and treated fibroblasts with these exosomes to assess their proliferation and migration. Mice were subjected to a full-thickness skin biopsy experiment and treated with either control vehicle or vehicle containing exosomes. Isolated exosomes were subjected to further mass spectrometry analysis to determine their cargo.

Results: Subjecting the acellular gelatinous Wharton’s jelly to proteomics approaches, we detected a large amount of proteins that are characteristic of exosomes. Here, we show that the exosomes isolated from the acellular gelatinous Wharton’s jelly enhance cell viability and cell migration in vitro and enhance skin wound healing in the punch biopsy wound model in mice. Mass spectrometry analysis revealed that exosomes of Wharton’s jelly umbilical cord contain a large amount of alpha-2-macroglobulin, a protein which mimics the effect of acellular gelatinous Wharton’s jelly exosomes on wound healing.

Conclusions: Exosomes are being enriched in the native niche of the umbilical cord and can enhance wound healing in vivo through their cargo. Exosomes from the acellular gelatinous Wharton’s jelly and the cargo protein alpha-2- macroglobulin have tremendous potential as a noncellular, off-the-shelf therapeutic modality for wound healing.

Keywords: Skin, Umbilical cord, Wound healing, Wharton’s jelly, Exosomes, Stem cells

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