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Developmental Biology

Efficient and Scalable Directed Differentiation of Clinically Compatible Corneal Limbal Epithelial Stem Cells from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells

Published: October 24th, 2018



1BioMediTech Institute, Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences, University of Tampere, 2Department of Ophthalmology, SILK, Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences, University of Tampere
* These authors contributed equally

This protocol introduces a simple two-step method for differentiating corneal limbal epithelial stem cells from human pluripotent stem cells under xeno- and feeder cell-free culture conditions. The cell culture methods presented here enable cost-efficient, large-scale production of clinical quality cells applicable to corneal cell therapy use.

Corneal limbal epithelial stem cells (LESCs) are responsible for continuously renewing the corneal epithelium, and thus maintaining corneal homeostasis and visual clarity. Human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-derived LESCs provide a promising cell source for corneal cell replacement therapy. Undefined, xenogeneic culture and differentiation conditions cause variation in research results and impede the clinical translation of hPSC-derived therapeutics. This protocol provides a reproducible and efficient method for hPSC-LESC differentiation under xeno- and feeder cell-free conditions. Firstly, monolayer culture of undifferentiated hPSC on recombinant laminin-521 (LN-521) and defined hPSC medium serves as a foundation for robust production of high-quality starting material for differentiations. Secondly, a rapid and simple hPSC-LESC differentiation method yields LESC populations in only 24 days. This method includes a four-day surface ectodermal induction in suspension with small molecules, followed by adherent culture phase on LN-521/collagen IV combination matrix in defined corneal epithelial differentiation medium. Cryostoring and extended differentiation further purifies the cell population and enables banking of the cells in large quantities for cell therapy products. The resulting high-quality hPSC-LESCs provide a potential novel treatment strategy for corneal surface reconstruction to treat limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD).

The transparent cornea at the ocular surface allows light to enter the retina and provides the majority of the eye's refractive power. The outermost layer, the stratified corneal epithelium, is continuously regenerated by limbal epithelial stem cells (LESCs). The LESCs reside in the basal layer of the limbal niches at the corneoscleral junction1,2. LESCs lack specific and unique markers, so their identification requires a more extensive analysis of a set of putative markers. Epithelial transcription factor p63, and especially N-terminally truncated transcript of the alpha isoform of p63 (ΔNp63α),....

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University of Tampere has the approval of the National Authority for Medicolegal affairs Finland (Dnro 1426/32/300/05) to conduct research on human embryos. The institute also has supportive statements of the Ethical Committee of the Pirkanmaa Hospital District to derive, culture, and differentiate hESC lines (Skottman/R05116) and to use hiPSC lines in ophthalmic research (Skottman/R14023). No new cell lines were derived for this study.

NOTE: The protocol described is based on specific, commer.......

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From hPSCs to hPSC-LESCs

The entire process from inducing differentiation of FF hPSCs to cryostoring hPSC-LESCs takes around 3.5 weeks. Schematic overview of the differentiation method highlighting its key steps is presented in Figure 1A. Figure 1B shows typical morphologies of cell populations in different phases of the protocol. The data presented are obtained with Regea.......

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The expected result of this protocol is the successful and robust generation of LESCs from a single cell suspension of FF hPSC within approximately 3.5 weeks. As corneal epithelium develops from surface ectoderm29, the first step of the protocol aims at steering hPSCs towards this lineage. A short 24 h induction with transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) antagonist SB-505124, and bFGF are used to induce ectodermal differentiation, followed by 48 h mesodermal BMP-4 cue to push the cells towa.......

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The study was supported by the Academy of Finland (grant number 297886), the Human spare parts program of Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, the Finnish Eye and Tissue Bank Foundation and the Finnish Cultural Foundation. The authors thank the biomedical laboratory technicians Outi Melin, Hanna Pekkanen, Emma Vikstedt, and Outi Heikkilä for excellent technical assistance and contribution to cell culture. Professor Katriina Aalto-Setälä is acknowledged for providing the hiPSC line used and BioMediTech Imaging Core facility for providing equipment for fluorescence imaging.


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
1x DPBS containing Ca2+ and Mg2+ Gibco #14040-091
1x DPBS without Ca2+ and Mg2+ Lonza #17-512F/12
100 mm cell culture dish Corning CellBIND #3296 Culture vessel format for adherent hPSC-LESC differentiation
12-well plate Corning CellBIND #3336 Culture vessel format for IF samples
24-well plate Corning CellBIND #3337 Culture vessel format for IF samples
2-mercaptoethanol Gibco #31350-010
6-well plate, Ultra-Low attachment Corning Costar #3471 Culture vessel format for induction in suspension culture
Alexa Fluor 488 anti-mouse Ig ThermoFisher Scientific #A-21202 Secondary antibody for IF
Alexa Fluor 488 anti-rabbit Ig ThermoFisher Scientific #A-21206 Secondary antibody for IF
Alexa Fluor 568 anti-goat Ig ThermoFisher Scientific #A-11057 Secondary antibody for IF
Alexa Fluor 568 anti-mouse Ig ThermoFisher Scientific #A-10037 Secondary antibody for IF
Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF, human) PeproTech Inc. #AF-100-18B Animal-Free Recombinant Human FGF-basic (154 a.a.)
BD Cytofix/Cytoperm Fixation/Permeabilization Solution BD Biosciences #554722 Fixation and permeabilization solution for flow cytometry
BD Perm/Wash Buffer BD Biosciences #554723 Washing buffer for flow cytometry
Blebbistatin Sigma-Aldrich #B0560
Bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP-4) PeproTech Inc. #120-05A
Bovine serum albumin (BSA) Sigma-Aldrich #A8022-100G
Cytokeratin 12 antibody Santa Cruz Biotechnology #SC-17099 Primary antibody for IF
Cytokeratin 14 antibody R&D Systems #MAB3164 Primary antibody for IF
Cytokeratin 15 antibody ThermoFisher Scientific #MS-1068-P Primary antibody for IF
CnT-30 CELLnTEC Advanced Cell Systems AG #Cnt-30 Culture medium for adherent hPSC-LESC differentiation
Collagen type IV (human) Sigma-Aldrich #C5533 Human placental collagen type IV
CoolCell LX Freezing Container Sigma-Aldrich #BCS-405
CryoPure tubes Sarsted #72.380 1.6 ml cryotube for hPSC-LESC cryopreservation
Defined Trypsin Inhibitor Gibco #R-007-100
Essential 8 Flex Medium Kit Thermo Fisher Scientific #A2858501
GlutaMAX Gibco #35050061
Laminin 521 Biolamina #Ln521 Human recombinant laminin 521
ΔNp63α antibody BioCare Medical #4892 Primary antibody for IF
OCT3/4 antibody R&D Systems #AF1759 Primary antibody for IF
p63α antibody Cell Signaling Technology #ACI3066A Primary antibody for IF
p63-α (D2K8X) XP Rabbit mAb (PE Conjugate) Cell Signaling Technology #56687 p63-α PE-conjugated antibody for flow cytometry
PAX6 antibody Sigma-Aldrich #HPA030775 Primary antibody for IF
Penicillin/Streptomycin Lonza #17-602E
Paraformaldehyde (PFA) Sigma-Aldrich #158127 Cell fixative for IF
ProLong Gold Antifade Mountant with DAPI Thermo Fisher Scientific #P36931 DAPI mountant for hard mounting for IF
PSC Cryopreservation Kit Thermo Fisher Scientific #A2644601
TrypLE Select Enzyme Gibco #12563-011
KnockOut Dulbecco’s modified Eagle’s medium Gibco #10829018
KnockOut SR XenoFree CTS Gibco #10828028
MEM non-essential amino acids Gibco #11140050
SB-505124 Sigma-Aldrich #S4696
Triton X-100 Sigma-Aldrich #T8787 Permeabilization agent for IF
VectaShield Vector Laboratories #H-1200 DAPI mountant for liquid mounting for IF
Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Cytocentrifuge, e.g. CellSpin II Tharmac
Flow cytometer, e.g. BD Accuri C6 BD Biosciences
Fluorescence microscope, e.g.Olympus IX 51 Olympus

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