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Mol Vis. 2007 Jun 29;13:1045-57.

Isolation of retinal progenitor and stem cells from the porcine eye.

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  • 1Centre for Vision Sciences, Queens University Belfast, United Kingdom.



Retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) and retinal stem cells (RSCs) from rodents and humans have been isolated and characterized in vitro. Transplantation experiments have confirmed their potential as tools for cell replacement in retinal degenerative diseases. The pig represents an ideal pre-clinical animal model to study the impact of transplantation because of the similarity of its eye to the human eye. However, little is known about porcine RPCs and RSCs. We aimed to identify and characterize in vitro RPCs and RSCs from porcine ocular tissues.


Cells from different subregions of embryonic, postnatal and adult porcine eyes were grown in suspension sphere culture in serum-free medium containing basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF). Growth curves and BrdU incorporation assays were performed to establish the proliferative capacity of isolated porcine retina-derived RPCs and ciliary epithelium (CE)-derived RSCs. Self-renewal potential was investigated by subsphere formation assays. Changes in gene expression were assayed by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) at different passages in culture. Finally, differentiation was induced by addition of serum to the cultures and expression of markers for retinal cell types was detected by immunohistochemical staining with specific antibodies.


Dissociated cells from embryonic retina and CE at different postnatal ages generated primary nestin- and Pax6-immunoreactive neurosphere colonies in vitro in numbers that decreased with age. Embryonic and postnatal retina-derived RPCs and young CE-derived RSCs displayed self-renewal capacity, generating secondary neurosphere colonies. However, their self-renewal and proliferation capacity gradually decreased and they became more committed to differentiated states with subsequent passages. The expansion capacity of RPCs and RSCs was higher when they were maintained in monolayer culture. Porcine RPCs and RSCs could be induced to differentiate in vitro to express markers of retinal neurons and glia.


Porcine retina and CE contain RPCs and RSCs which are undifferentiated, self-renewing and multipotent and which show characteristics similar to their human counterparts. Therefore, the pig could be a useful source of cells to further investigate the cell biology of RPCs and RSCs and it could be used as a non-primate large animal model for pre-clinical studies on stem cell-based approaches to regenerative medicine in the retina.

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