Mesenchymal stem cells may differentiate into cardiomyocytes and participate in local tissue repair after heart injury. In the current study, rat adipose-derived adult stem cells (ASCs) grown on chitosan membranes were observed to form cell spheroids after 3 days. The cell seeding density and surface modification of chitosan with Arg-Gly-Asp-containing peptide had an influence on the sizes of ASC spheroids. In the absence of induction, these spheroids showed an increased level of cardiac marker gene expression (Gata4, Nkx2-5, Myh6, and Tnnt2) more than 20-fold versus cells on the tissue culture polystyrene (TCPS) dish. Induction by 5-azacytidine or p38 MAP kinase inhibitor (SB202190) did not further increase the cardiac marker gene expression of these spheroids. Moreover, the enhanced cardiomyogenic potential of the spheroids was highly associated with the chitosan substrates. When ASC spheroids were plated onto TCPS with either basal or cardiac induction medium for 9 days, the spheroids spread into a monolayer and the positive effect on cardiomyogenic marker gene expression disappeared. The possible role of calcium ion and the up-regulation of adhesion molecule P-selectin and chemokine receptor Cxcr4 were demonstrated in ASC spheroids. Applying these spheroids to the chronic myocardial infarction animal model showed better functional recovery versus single cells after 12 weeks. Taken together, this study suggested that the ASC spheroids on chitosan may form as a result of calcium ion signaling, and the transplantation of these spheroids may offer a simple method to enhance the efficiency of stem cell-based therapy in myocardial infarction.
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