Periodontal ligament stem cells (PDLSCs) have recently been proposed as a novel option in periodontal regenerative therapy. However, one of the issues is the difficulty of stably generating PDLSCs because of the variation of stem cell potential between donors. Here, we show that Semaphorin 3A (Sema3A) can induce mesenchymal-stem-like properties in human periodontal ligament (PDL) cells. Sema3A expression was specifically observed in the dental follicle during tooth development and in parts of mature PDL tissue in rodent tooth and periodontal tissue. Sema3A expression levels were found to be higher in multipotential human PDL cell clones compared with low-differentiation potential clones. Sema3A-overexpressing PDL cells exhibited an enhanced capacity to differentiate into both functional osteoblasts and adipocytes. Moreover, PDL cells treated with Sema3A only at the initiation of culture stimulated osteogenesis, while Sema3A treatment throughout the culture had no effect on osteogenic differentiation. Finally, Sema3A-overexpressing PDL cells upregulated the expression of embryonic stem cell markers (NANOG, OCT4, and E-cadherin) and mesenchymal stem cell markers (CD73, CD90, CD105, CD146, and CD166), and Sema3A promoted cell division activity of PDL cells. These results suggest that Sema3A may possess the function to convert PDL cells into mesenchymal-stem-like cells.
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