Enforced hematopoietic cell E- and L-selectin ligand (HCELL) expression primes transendothelial migration of human mesenchymal stem cells

Author(s): Thankamony SP, Sackstein R


According to the multistep model of cell migration, chemokine receptor engagement (step 2) triggers conversion of rolling interactions (step 1) into firm adhesion (step 3), yielding transendothelial migration. We recently reported that glycosyltransferase-programmed stereosubstitution (GPS) of CD44 on human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) creates the E-selectin ligand HCELL (hematopoietic cell E-selectin/L-selectin ligand) and, despite absence of CXCR4, systemically administered HCELL(+)hMSCs display robust osteotropism visualized by intravital microscopy. Here we performed studies to define the molecular effectors of this process. We observed that engagement of hMSC HCELL with E-selectin triggers VLA-4 adhesiveness, resulting in shear-resistant adhesion to ligand VCAM-1. This VLA-4 activation is mediated via a Rac1/Rap1 GTPase signaling pathway, resulting in transendothelial migration on stimulated human umbilical vein endothelial cells without chemokine input. These findings indicate that hMSCs coordinately integrate CD44 ligation and integrin activation, circumventing chemokine-mediated signaling, yielding a step 2-bypass pathway of the canonical multistep paradigm of cell migration.

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