Xeno- and feeder-free differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells to two distinct ocular epithelial cell types using simple modifications of one method.
Hongisto H, Ilmarinen T, Vattulainen M, Mikhailova A, Skottman H.
University of Tampere
Stem Cell Research and Therapies
BACKGROUND: Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) provide a promising cell source for ocular cell replacement therapy, but often lack standardized and xenogeneic-free culture and differentiation protocols. We aimed to develop a xeno- and feeder cell-free culture system for undifferentiated hPSCs along with efficient methods to derive ocular therapy target cells: retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells and corneal limbal epithelial stem cells (LESCs). METHODS: Multiple genetically distinct hPSC lines were adapted to a defined, xeno-, and feeder-free culture system of Essential 8™ medium and laminin-521 matrix. Thereafter, two-stage differentiation methods toward ocular epithelial cells were established utilizing xeno-free media and a combination of extracellular matrix proteins. Both differentiation methods shared the same basal elements, using only minor inductive modifications during early differentiation towards desired cell lineages. The resulting RPE cells and LESCs were characterized after several independent differentiation experiments and recovery after xeno-free cryopreservation. RESULTS: The defined, xeno-, and feeder-free culture system provided a robust means to generate high-quality hPSCs with chromosomal stability limited to early passages. Inductive cues introduced during the first week of differentiation had a substantial effect on lineage specification, cell survival, and even mature RPE properties. Derivative RPE formed functional epithelial monolayers with mature tight junctions and expression of RPE genes and proteins, as well as phagocytosis and key growth factor secretion capacity after 9 weeks of maturation on inserts. Efficient LESC differentiation led to cell populations expressing LESC markers such as p40/p63α by day 24. Finally, we established xeno-free cryobanking protocols for pluripotent hPSCs, hPSC-RPE cells, and hPSC-LESCs, and demonstrated successful recovery after thawing. CONCLUSIONS: We propose methods for efficient and scalable, directed differentiation of high-quality RPE cells and LESCs. The two clinically relevant cell types are generated with simple inductive modification of the same basal method, followed by adherent culture, passaging, and cryobanking.
Product use
hPSC differentiation into retinal and limbal cells
Tissue type

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