The plasticity of c-kit-positive bone marrow cells (c-kit-BMCs) in tissues different from their organ of origin remains unclear. We tested the hypothesis that c-kit-BMCs are functionally heterogeneous and only a subgroup of these cells possesses cardiomyogenic potential. Population-based assays fall short of identifying the properties of individual stem cells, imposing on us the introduction of single cell-based approaches to track the fate of c-kit-BMCs in the injured heart; they included viral gene-tagging, multicolor clonal-marking and transcriptional profiling. Based on these strategies, we report that single mouse c-kit-BMCs expand clonally within the infarcted myocardium and differentiate into specialized cardiac cells. Newly-formed cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells, fibroblasts and c-kit-BMCs showed in their genome common sites of viral integration, providing strong evidence in favor of the plasticity of a subset of BMCs expressing the c-kit receptor. Similarly, individual c-kit-BMCs, which were infected with multicolor reporters and injected in infarcted hearts, formed cardiomyocytes and vascular cells organized in clusters of similarly colored cells. The uniform distribution of fluorescent proteins in groups of specialized cells documented the polyclonal nature of myocardial regeneration. The transcriptional profile of myogenic c-kit-BMCs and whole c-kit-BMCs was defined by RNA sequencing. Genes relevant for engraftment, survival, migration, and differentiation were enriched in myogenic c-kit-BMCs, a cell subtype which could not be assigned to a specific hematopoietic lineage. Collectively, our findings demonstrate that the bone marrow comprises a category of cardiomyogenic, vasculogenic and/or fibrogenic c-kit-positive cells and a category of c-kit-positive cells that retains an undifferentiated state within the damaged heart.
P.A. is a member of Autologous Regeneration LLP. P.A. and A.L. are members of AAL Scientifics Inc. The remaining authors declare no competing financial interests.