Title: An efficient simplified method for the generation of corneal epithelial cells from human pluripotent stem cells
Rodi Abdalkader* & Ken-ichiro Kamei*
Abstract: Corneal epithelial cells derived from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) are an important cell source for preclinical models to test ophthalmic drugs. However, current differentiation protocols lack instructions regarding optimal culturing conditions, which hinders the quality of cells and limits scale-up. Here, we introduce a simplified small molecule-based corneal induction method (SSM-CI) to generate corneal epithelial cells from hPSCs. SSM-CI provides the advantage of minimizing cell-culturing time using two defined culturing media containing TGF-β, and Wnt/β-catenin pathway inhibitors, and bFGF growth factor over 25 days. Compared to the conventional human corneal epithelial cell line (HCE-T) and human primary corneal epithelial cells (hPCEpCs), corneal epithelial cells generated by SSM-CI are well differentiated and express relevant maturation markers, including PAX6 and CK12. RNA-seq analysis indicated the faithful differentiation of hPSCs into corneal epithelia, with significant upregulation of corneal progenitor and adult corneal epithelial phenotypes. Furthermore, despite the initial inhibition of TGF-β and Wnt/β-catenin, upregulation of these pathway-related transcripts was observed in the later stages, indicating their necessity in the generation of mature corneal epithelial cells. Moreover, we observed a shift in gene signatures associated with the metabolic characteristics of mature corneal epithelial cells, involving a decrease in glycolysis and an increase in fatty acid oxidation. This was also attributed to the overexpression of metabolic enzymes and transporter-related transcripts responsible for fatty acid metabolism. Thus, SSM-CI provides a comprehensive method for the generation of functional corneal epithelial cells for use in preclinical models.
Human Cell (2022); DOI: 10.1007/s13577-022-00713-5