Wnts were previously shown to regulate the neurogenesis of neural stem or progenitor cells. Here, we explored the underlying molecular mechanisms through which Wnt signaling regulates neurotrophins (NTs) in the NT-induced neuronal differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs). NTs can increase the expression of Wnt1 and Wnt7a in hMSCs. However, only Wnt7a enables the expression of synapsin-1, a synaptic marker in mature neurons, to be induced and triggers the formation of cholinergic and dopaminergic neurons. Human recombinant (hr)Wnt7a and general neuron makers were positively correlated in a dose- and time-dependent manner. In addition, the expression of synaptic markers and neurites was induced by Wnt7a and lithium, a glycogen synthase kinase-3β inhibitor, in the NT-induced hMSCs via the canonical/β- catenin pathway, but was inhibited by Wnt inhibitors and frizzled-5 (Frz5) blocking antibodies. In addition, hrWnt7a triggered the formation of cholinergic and dopaminergic neurons via the non-canonical/c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) pathway, and the formation of these neurons was inhibited by a JNK inhibitor and Frz9 blocking antibodies. In conclusion, hrWnt7a enhances the synthesis of synapse and facilitates neuronal differentiation in hMSCS through various Frz receptors. These mechanisms may be employed widely in the transdifferentiation of other adult stem cells.
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