Identification and initial characterization of spore-like cells in adult mammals

Martin P. Vacanti, Amit Roy, Joaquin Cortiella, Lawrence Bonassar, Charles A. Vacanti

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79 Scopus citations


We describe the identification and initial characterization of a novel cell type that seems to be present in all tissues. To date we have isolated what we term "spore-like cells" based on the characteristics described below. They are extremely small, in the range of less than 5 μm, and appear to lie dormant and to be dispersed throughout the parenchyma of virtually every tissue in the body. Being dormant, they survive in extremely low oxygen environments, as evidenced by their viability in tissues (even in metabolically very active tissues such as the brain or spinal cord) for several days after sacrifice of an animal without delivery of oxygen or nutrients. The spore-like cells described in this report have an exceptional ability to survive in hostile conditions, known to be detrimental to mammalian cells, including extremes of temperature. Spore-like cells remain viable in unprepared tissue, frozen at -86°C (using no special preservation techniques) and then thawed, or heated to 85°C for more than 30 min. Preliminary characterization of these cells utilizing basic and special stains, as well as scanning and transmission electron microscopy reveal very small undifferentiated cells, which contain predominantly nucleus within a small amount of cytoplasm and a few mitochondria. Focal periodic acid-Schiff and mucicarmine stains suggest a coating of glycolipid and mucopolysaccharide. In vitro, these structures have the capacity to enlarge, develop, and differentiate into cell types expressing characteristics appropriate to the tissue environment from which they were initially isolated. We believe that these unique cells lie dormant until activated by injury or disease, and that they have the potential to regenerate tissues lost to disease or damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)455-460
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Cellular Biochemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Cell biology
  • Progenitor cells
  • Stem cells
  • Tissue engineering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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