Analysis of retinal ganglion cell development: from stem cells to synapses
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) have the ability to self renew indefinitely while maintaining their pluripotency, allowing for the study of virtually any human cell type in a dish. The focus of the current study was the differentiation of hPSCs to retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the primary cell type affected in optic neuropathies. hPSCs were induced to become retinal cells using a stepwise differentiation protocol that allowed for formation of optic vesicle (OV)-like structures. Enrichment
... of OV like structures allowed for the definitive identification of RGCs. RGCs displayed the proper temporal, spatial, and phenotypic characteristics of RGCs developing in vivo. To test the ability of hPSC-RGCs to serve as a disease model, lines were generated from a patient with an E50K mutation in the Optineurin gene, causative for normal tension primary open angle glaucoma. E50K RGCs displayed significantly higher levels of apoptosis compared to a control lines. Apoptosis was reduced with exposure to neuroprotective factors. Lastly, hPSC-derived RGCs were studied for their ability to develop functional features possessed by mature in vivo RGCs. hPSC-derived RGCs displayed a few immature functional features and as such, strategies in which to expedite synaptogenesis using hPSC-derived astrocytes were explored. Astrocyte and RGG co-cultures displayed expedited synaptic and functional maturation, more closely resembling mature in vivo RGCs. Taken together, the results of this study have important implications for the study of RGC development and by extension, the advancement of translational therapies for optic neuropathies.