Inherited forms of epidermolysis bullosa are blistering diseases of the skin and mucosa resulting from various gene mutations. Transplantation of bone marrow-derived stem cells might be a promising systemic treatment for severe dystrophic or junctional epidermolysis bullosa, but many key questions remain unresolved. Two open questions of clinical interest are whether systemically transplanted bone marrow-derived stem cells of mesodermal origin might be able to transdifferentiate into keratinocytes with an ectodermal phenotype and whether these cells are also capable of repairing a specific intraepidermal gene defect. To address these questions, we transplanted bone marrow-derived stem cells into mice with a blistering disease exclusively localized to the epidermis resulting from a functional knockout of desmoglein-3 (Dsg3). We found that Dsg3+ donor-derived cells migrate into the recipient epidermis. However, these cells failed to restore the missing Dsg3 mRNA and DSG3 protein expression in the transplanted Dsg3–/– mice. The donor-derived cells found in the epidermis preserved their CD45+ hematopoietic origin, and no transdifferentiation into integrin α6+ keratinocytes or integrin α6+/CD34+ epidermal stem cells occurred. Our results indicate that bone marrow-derived stem cells preserve their mesodermal fate after systemic transplantation and are not capable of treating patients with epidermolysis bullosa with an intraepidermal skin defect.
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