Objective: Transdifferentiation of fibroblasts to endothelial cells (ECs) may provide a novel therapeutic avenue for diseases, including ischemia and fibrosis. Here, we demonstrate that human fibroblasts can be transdifferentiated into functional ECs by using only 2 factors, Oct4 and Klf4, under inductive signaling conditions.
Approach and results: To determine whether human fibroblasts could be converted into ECs by transient expression of pluripotency factors, human neonatal fibroblasts were transduced with lentiviruses encoding Oct4 and Klf4 in the presence of soluble factors that promote the induction of an endothelial program. After 28 days, clusters of induced endothelial (iEnd) cells seemed and were isolated for further propagation and subsequent characterization. The iEnd cells resembled primary human ECs in their transcriptional signature by expressing endothelial phenotypic markers, such as CD31, vascular endothelial-cadherin, and von Willebrand Factor. Furthermore, the iEnd cells could incorporate acetylated low-density lipoprotein and form vascular structures in vitro and in vivo. When injected into the ischemic limb of mice, the iEnd cells engrafted, increased capillary density, and enhanced tissue perfusion. During the transdifferentiation process, the endogenous pluripotency network was not activated, suggesting that this process bypassed a pluripotent intermediate step.
Conclusions: Pluripotent factor-induced transdifferentiation can be successfully applied for generating functional autologous ECs for therapeutic applications.
Keywords: angiogenesis; direct reprogramming; endothelium; peripheral vascular disease; stem cells; transdifferentiation.