The role of umbilical cord blood (CB)-derived stem cell therapy in neonatal lung injury remains undetermined. We investigated the capacity of human CB-derived CD34(+) hematopoietic progenitor cells to regenerate injured alveolar epithelium in newborn mice. Double-transgenic mice with doxycycline (Dox)-dependent lung-specific Fas ligand (FasL) overexpression, treated with Dox between embryonal day 15 and postnatal day 3, served as a model of neonatal lung injury. Single-transgenic non-Dox-responsive littermates were controls. CD34(+) cells (1 × 10(5) to 5 × 10(5)) were administered at postnatal day 5 by intranasal inoculation. Engraftment, respiratory epithelial differentiation, proliferation, and cell fusion were studied at 8 weeks after inoculation. Engrafted cells were readily detected in all recipients and showed a higher incidence of surfactant immunoreactivity and proliferative activity in FasL-overexpressing animals compared with non-FasL-injured littermates. Cord blood-derived cells surrounding surfactant-immunoreactive type II-like cells frequently showed a transitional phenotype between type II and type I cells and/or type I cell-specific podoplanin immunoreactivity. Lack of nuclear colocalization of human and murine genomic material suggested the absence of fusion. In conclusion, human CB-derived CD34(+) cells are capable of long-term pulmonary engraftment, replication, clonal expansion, and reconstitution of injured respiratory epithelium by fusion-independent mechanisms. Cord blood-derived surfactant-positive epithelial cells appear to act as progenitors of the distal respiratory unit, analogous to resident type II cells. Graft proliferation and alveolar epithelial differentiation are promoted by lung injury.
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