Background: Reduced numbers and dysfunction of thymic epithelial cells (TECs) are important factors of thymic degeneration. Previous studies have found that umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells (UCMSCs) reverse the structure and function of the senescent thymus in vivo. However, the transcriptomic regulation mechanism is unclear.

Methods: TECs were cultured with H2O2 for 72 hours to induce senescence. UCMSCs were cocultured with senescent TECs for 48 hours to detect SA-β-gal, P16 and Ki67. The cocultured TECs were collected for lncRNA, mRNA and miRNA sequencing to establish a competitive endogenous regulatory network (ceRNA). And RT-qPCR, immunofluorescence staining, and western blot were used to identified key genes.

Results: Our results showed that H2O2 induced TEC aging and that UCMSCs reversed these changes. Compared with those in aged TECs, 2260 DE mRNAs, 1033 DE lncRNAs and 67 DE miRNAs were differentially expressed, and these changes were reversed by coculturing the cells with UCMSCs. Differential mRNA enrichment analysis of ceRNA regulation revealed that the PI3K-AKT pathway was a significant signaling pathway. UCMSC coculture upregulated VEGFA, which is the upstream factor of the PI3K-AKT signaling pathway, and the expression of the key proteins PI3K and AKT. Thus, the expression of the cell cycle suppressor P27, which is downstream of the PI3K-AKT signaling pathway, was downregulated, while the expression of the cell cycle regulators CDK2 and CCNE was upregulated.

Conclusion: UCMSC coculture upregulated the expression of VEGFA, activated the PI3K-AKT signaling pathway, increased the expression of CDK2 and CCNE, decreased the expression of P27, and promoted the proliferation of TECs.