In vivo lineage studies have shown that retinal cells arise from multipotential progenitors whose fates are regulated by cell-cell interactions. To understand the mechanism underlying their maintenance and differentiation, we have analyzed the differentiation potential of progenitors derived from embryonic rat retina in vitro. These progenitors proliferate and remain undifferentiated in vitro in the presence of epidermal growth factor (EGF) and display properties similar to stem cells. In addition to expressing nestin, the neuroectodermal stem cell marker, retinal progenitors are multipotential. Upon withdrawal of EGF and addition of serum, the progenitors downregulate the expression of nestin and express cell-type specific markers corresponding to neurons and glia. In addition to expressing cell-type specific markers, retinal progenitors and their progeny could be distinguished on the basis of their distinct voltage gated current profile. A proportion of progenitors is lineage restricted and the fate of these cells can be influenced by the microenvironment, suggesting that stage-specific interactions mediated by the local environment influence the progression of progenitors towards acquisition of differentiated phenotypes.
Copyright 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.