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Stem Cell Derived Retinal Pigment Epithelium: The Role of Pigmentation as Maturation Marker and Gene Expression Profile Comparison with Human Endogenous Retinal Pigment Epithelium.

Stem Cell Rev 2017, vol. 13, issue 5

In age-related macular degeneration (AMD) the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) deteriorates, leading to photoreceptor decay and severe vision loss. New therapeutic strategies aim at RPE replacement by transplantation of pluripotent stem cell (PSC)-derived RPE. Several protocols to generate RPE have been developed where appearance of pigmentation is commonly used as indicator of RPE differentiation and maturation. It is, however, unclear how different pigmentation stages reflect developmental stages and functionality of PSC-derived RPE cells. We generated human embryonic stem cell-derived RPE (hESC-RPE) cells and investigated their gene expression profiles at early pigmentation (EP) and late pigmentation (LP) stages. In addition, we compared the hESC-RPE samples with human endogenous RPE. We used a common reference design microarray (44 K). Our analysis showed that maturing hESC-RPE, upon acquiring pigmentation, expresses markers specific for human RPE. Interestingly, our analysis revealed that EP and LP hESC-RPE do not differ much in gene expression. Our data further showed that pigmented hESC-RPE has a significant lower expression than human endogenous RPE in the visual cycle and oxidative stress pathways. In contrast, we observed a significantly higher expression of pathways related to the process adhesion-to-polarity model that is typical of developing epithelial cells. We conclude that, in vitro, the first appearance of pigmentation hallmarks differentiated RPE. However, further increase in pigmentation does not result in much significant gene expression changes and does not add important RPE functionalities. Consequently, our results suggest that the time span for obtaining differentiated hESC-RPE cells, that are suitable for transplantation, may be greatly reduced.

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