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Rapid advancements in the field of stem cell biology have led to many current efforts to exploit stem cells as therapeutic agents in regenerative medicine. However, current ex vivo cell manipulations common to most regenerative approaches create a variety of technical and regulatory hurdles to their clinical translation, and even simpler approaches that use exogenous factors to differentiate tissue-resident stem cells carry significant off-target side effects. We show that non-ionizing, low-power laser (LPL) treatment can instead be used as a minimally invasive tool to activate an endogenous latent growth factor complex, transforming growth factor–β1 (TGF-β1), that subsequently differentiates host stem cells to promote tissue regeneration. LPL treatment induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) in a dose-dependent manner, which, in turn, activated latent TGF-β1 (LTGF-β1) via a specific methionine residue (at position 253 on LAP). Laser-activated TGF-β1 was capable of differentiating human dental stem cells in vitro. Further, an in vivo pulp capping model in rat teeth demonstrated significant increase in dentin regeneration after LPL treatment. These in vivo effects were abrogated in TGF-β receptor II (TGF-βRII) conditional knockout (DSPPCreTGF-βRIIfl/fl) mice or when wild-type mice were given a TGF-βRI inhibitor. These findings indicate a pivotal role for TGF-β in mediating LPL-induced dental tissue regeneration. More broadly, this work outlines a mechanistic basis for harnessing resident stem cells with a light-activated endogenous cue for clinical regenerative applications.
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