Single-cell RNA-seq highlights heterogeneity in human primary Wharton's jelly mesenchymal stem/stromal cells cultured in vitro

Changbin Sun, Lei Wang, Hailun Wang, Tingrun Huang, Wenwen Yao, Jing Li, Xi Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) are multipotent cells with a promising application potential in regenerative medicine and immunomodulation. However, MSCs cultured in vitro exhibit functional heterogeneity. The underlying molecular mechanisms that define MSC heterogeneity remain unclear. Methods: We investigated the gene expression profile via single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) of human primary Wharton's jelly-derived MSCs (WJMSCs) cultured in vitro from three donors. We also isolated CD142+ and CD142- WJMSCs based on scRNA-seq data and compared their proliferation capacity and "wound healing" potential in vitro. Meanwhile, we analyzed publicly available adipose-derived MSC (ADMSCs) scRNA-seq data and performed transcriptome comparison between WJMSCs and ADMSCs at the single-cell level. Results: GO enrichment analysis of highly variable genes (HVGs) obtained from WJMSCs revealed that these genes are significantly enriched in extracellular region with binding function, involved in developmental process, signal transduction, cell proliferation, etc. Pathway analysis showed that these HVGs are associated with functional characteristics of classic MSCs, such as inflammation mediated by chemokine and cytokine signaling, integrin signaling, and angiogenesis. After regressing out the batch and cell cycle effects, these HVGs were used for dimension reduction and clustering analysis to identify candidate subpopulations. Differentially expressed gene analysis revealed the existence of several distinct subpopulations of MSCs that exhibit diverse functional characteristics related to proliferation, development, and inflammation response. In line with our data, sorted CD142+ and CD142- WJMSCs showed distinct proliferation capacity as well as "wound healing" potential. Although WJMSCs and ADMSCs were derived from different tissues and were displaying different differentiation potencies, their HVGs were largely overlapped and had similar functional enrichment. Conclusion: HVGs identified in MSCs are associated with classic MSC function. Regarding therapeutic potential, these genes are associated with functional characteristics, on which the MSC clinical application were theoretically based, such as development and inflammation response. Altogether, these HVGs hold the potential to be used as candidate markers for further potency association studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number149
JournalStem Cell Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 6 2020


  • Functional enrichment
  • Highly variable genes
  • MSCs
  • Potency
  • scRNA-seq

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Cell Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Single-cell RNA-seq highlights heterogeneity in human primary Wharton's jelly mesenchymal stem/stromal cells cultured in vitro'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this