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Stem Cell Res. 2012 Sep;9(2):101-9. doi: 10.1016/j.scr.2012.05.002. Epub 2012 May 16.

Generation of retinal pigment epithelial cells from human embryonic stem cell-derived spherical neural masses.

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R&D Center, Jeil Pharmaceutical CO, LTD Yongin 449-861, Republic of Korea.


Dysfunction and loss of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) are major pathologic changes observed in various retinal degenerative diseases such as aged-related macular degeneration. RPE generated from human pluripotent stem cells can be a good candidate for RPE replacement therapy. Here, we show the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) toward RPE with the generation of spherical neural masses (SNMs), which are pure masses of hESCs-derived neural precursors. During the early passaging of SNMs, cystic structures arising from opened neural tube-like structures showed pigmented epithelial morphology. These pigmented cells were differentiated into functional RPE by neuroectodermal induction and mechanical purification. Most of the differentiated cells showed typical RPE morphologies, such as a polygonal-shaped epithelial monolayer, and transmission electron microscopy revealed apical microvilli, pigment granules, and tight junctions. These cells also expressed molecular markers of RPE, including Mitf, ZO-1, RPE65, CRALBP, and bestrophin. The generated RPE also showed phagocytosis of isolated bovine photoreceptor outer segment and secreting pigment epithelium-derived factor and vascular endothelial growth factor. Functional RPE could be generated from SNM in our method. Because SNMs have several advantages, including the capability of expansion for long periods without loss of differentiation capability, easy storage and thawing, and no need for feeder cells, our method for RPE differentiation may be used as an efficient strategy for generating functional RPE cells for retinal regeneration therapy.

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