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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2008 Sep;49(9):4145-53. doi: 10.1167/iovs.07-1380. Epub 2008 May 9.

Reprogramming progeny cells of embryonic RPE to produce photoreceptors: development of advanced photoreceptor traits under the induction of neuroD.

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  • 1Department of Ophthalmology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama.



In examining the prospect of producing functional photoreceptors by reprogramming the differentiation of RPE progeny cells, this study was conducted to investigate whether reprogrammed cells can develop highly specialized ultrastructural and physiological traits that characterize retinal photoreceptors.


Cultured chick RPE cells were reprogrammed to differentiate along the photoreceptor pathway by ectopic expression of neuroD. Cellular ultrastructure was examined with electron microscopy. Cellular physiology was studied by monitoring cellular free calcium (Ca(2+)) levels in dark-adapted cells in response to light and in light-bleached cells in response to 9-cis-retinal.


Reprogrammed cells were found to localize red opsin protein appropriately to the apex. These cells developed inner segments rich in mitochondria, and while in culture, some formed rudimentary outer segments, analogous to those of developing photoreceptors in the retina. In response to light, reprogrammed cells reduced their Ca(2+) levels, as observed with developing retinal photoreceptors in culture. Further, on exposure to 9-cis-retinal, the light-bleached, reprogrammed cells increased their Ca(2+) levels, reminiscent of visual cycle recovery.


These results indicate the potential of reprogrammed cells to develop advanced ultrastructural and physiological traits of photoreceptors and point to reprogramming progeny cells of embryonic RPE as a possible alternative in producing developing photoreceptors.

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