Progress in retinal-cell therapy derived from human pluripotent stem cells currently faces technical challenges that require the development of easy and standardized protocols. Here, we developed a simple retinal differentiation method, based on confluent human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC), bypassing embryoid body formation and the use of exogenous molecules, coating, or Matrigel. In 2 wk, we generated both retinal pigmented epithelial cells and self-forming neural retina (NR)-like structures containing retinal progenitor cells (RPCs). We report sequential differentiation from RPCs to the seven neuroretinal cell types in maturated NR-like structures as floating cultures, thereby revealing the multipotency of RPCs generated from integration-free hiPSCs. Furthermore, Notch pathway inhibition boosted the generation of photoreceptor precursor cells, crucial in establishing cell therapy strategies. This innovative process proposed here provides a readily efficient and scalable approach to produce retinal cells for regenerative medicine and for drug-screening purposes, as well as an in vitro model of human retinal development and disease.
Rod-cone dystrophy (RCD), also known as retinitis pigmentosa, is a progressive inherited retinal disorder characterized by photoreceptor cell death and genetic heterogeneity. Mutations in many genes have been implicated in the pathophysiology of RCD, but several others remain to be identified. Herein, we applied whole-exome sequencing to a consanguineous family with one subject affected with RCD and identified a homozygous nonsense mutation, c.226C>T (p.Arg76(?)), in KIZ, which encodes centrosomal protein kizuna. Subsequent Sanger sequencing of 340 unrelated individuals with sporadic and autosomal-recessive RCD identified two other subjects carrying pathogenic variants in KIZ: one with the same homozygous nonsense mutation (c.226C>T [p.Arg76(?)]) and another with compound-heterozygous mutations c.119_122delAACT (p.Lys40Ilefs(?)14) and c.52G>T (p.Glu18(?)). Transcriptomic analysis in mice detected mRNA levels of the mouse ortholog (Plk1s1) in rod photoreceptors, as well as its decreased expression when photoreceptors degenerated in rd1 mice. The presence of the human KIZ transcript was confirmed by quantitative RT-PCR in the retina, the retinal pigment epithelium, fibroblasts, and whole-blood cells (highest expression was in the retina). RNA in situ hybridization demonstrated the presence of Plk1s1 mRNA in the outer nuclear layer of the mouse retina. Immunohistology revealed KIZ localization at the basal body of the cilia in human fibroblasts, thus shedding light on another ciliary protein implicated in autosomal-recessive RCD.
Retinal progenitor proliferation and differentiation are tightly controlled by extrinsic cues and distinctive combinations of transcription factors leading to the generation of retinal cell type diversity. In this context, we have characterized Bcl-2-associated transcription factor (Bclaf1) during rodent retinogenesis. Bclaf1 expression is restricted to early-born cell types, such as ganglion, amacrine, and horizontal cells. Analysis of developing retinas in Bclaf1-deficient mice revealed a reduction in the numbers of retinal ganglion cells, amacrine cells and horizontal cells and an increase in the numbers of cone photoreceptor precursors. Silencing of Bclaf1expression by in vitro electroporation of shRNA in embryonic retina confirmed that Bclaf1 serves to promote amacrine and horizontal cell differentiation. Misexpression of Bclaf1 in late retinal progenitors was not sufficient to directly induce the generation of amacrine and horizontal cells. Domain deletion analysis indicated that the N-terminal domain of Bclaf1 containing an arginine-serine-rich and a bZip domain is required for its effects on retinal cell differentiation. In addition, analysis revealed that Bclaf1 function occurs independently of its interaction with endogenous Bcl-2-related proteins. Altogether, our data demonstrates that Bclaf1expression in postmitotic early-born cells facilitates the differentiation of early retinal precursors into retinal ganglion cells, amacrine cells, and horizontal cells rather than into cone photoreceptors.
Inherited retinal diseases are a group of clinically and genetically heterogeneous disorders for which a significant number of cases remain genetically unresolved. Increasing knowledge on underlying pathogenic mechanisms with precise phenotype-genotype correlation is, however, critical for establishing novel therapeutic interventions for these yet incurable neurodegenerative conditions. We report phenotypic and genetic characterization of a large family presenting an unusual autosomal dominant retinal dystrophy. Phenotypic characterization revealed a retinopathy dominated by inner retinal dysfunction and ganglion cell abnormalities. Whole-exome sequencing identified a missense variant (c.782A>C, p.Glu261Ala) in ITM2B coding for Integral Membrane Protein 2B, which co-segregates with the disease in this large family and lies within the 24.6 Mb interval identified by microsatellite haplotyping. The physiological role of ITM2B remains unclear and has never been investigated in the retina. RNA in situ hybridization reveals Itm2b mRNA in inner nuclear and ganglion cell layers within the retina, with immunostaining demonstrating the presence of the corresponding protein in the same layers. Furthermore, ITM2B in the retina co-localizes with its known interacting partner in cerebral tissue, the amyloid ? precursor protein, critical in Alzheimer disease physiopathology. Interestingly, two distinct ITM2B mutations, both resulting in a longer protein product, had already been reported in two large autosomal dominant families with Alzheimer-like dementia but never in subjects with isolated retinal diseases. These findings should better define pathogenic mechanism(s) associated with ITM2B mutations underlying dementia or retinal disease and add a new candidate to the list of genes involved in inherited retinal dystrophies.
Our purpose was to investigate genes and molecular mechanisms involved in patients with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) and to model this type of LCA for drug screening. Fibroblasts from two unrelated clinically identified patients with a yet undetermined gene mutation were reprogrammed to pluripotency by retroviral transduction. These human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) were differentiated into neural stem cells (NSCs) that mimicked the neural tube stage and retinal pigmented epithelial (RPE) cells that could be targeted by the disease. A genome-wide transcriptome analysis was performed with Affymetrix Exon Array GeneChip(®), comparing LCA-hiPSCs derivatives to controls. A genomic search for alteration in all genes known to be involved in LCA revealed a common polymorphism on the GUCY2D gene, referenced as the LCA type I (OMIM *600179 and #204000), but the causative gene remained unknown. The hiPSCs expressed the key pluripotency factors and formed embryoid bodies in vitro containing cells originating from all three germ layers. They were successfully differentiated into NSC and RPE cells. One gene, NNAT, was upregulated in LCA cell populations, and three genes were downregulated, GSTT1, TRIM61 and ZNF558, with potential correlates for molecular mechanisms of this type of LCA, in particular for protein degradation and oxidative stress. The two LCA patient-specific iPSC lines will contribute to modeling LCA phenotypes and screening candidate drugs.
Foxn4, a member of the N-family forkhead transcription factors, controls fate decision in mouse retina and spinal cord as well as in zebrafish heart. Analysis of Foxn4 amino acid sequence revealed the presence of a region homologous to the activation domain of its close relative Foxn1 in between C-terminal amino acids 402 and 455 of Foxn4 protein. The requirement of Foxn4 putative activation domain remains to be elucidated. Using a gain-of function approach in rat and chick retinal explants, we report that deletion of Foxn4 putative activation domain results in a complete loss of its activity during retinogenesis. Target promoter transcription assay indicates that this domain is critical for Foxn4 transcriptional regulatory properties in vitro. Accordingly, in chick retinal explants, this domain is required for proper regulation of target retinogenic factors expression by Foxn4. Thus, our study demonstrates that the domain between amino acids 402 and 455 is necessary for Foxn4 transcriptional activity both in vitro and in the retina.
RdCVF and RdCVF2, encoded by the nucleoredoxin-like genes NXNL1 and NXNL2, are trophic factors with therapeutic potential that are involved in cone photoreceptor survival. Studying how their expression is regulated in the retina has implications for understanding both their activity and the mechanisms determining cell-type specificity within the retina.
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