Direct conversion of human fibroblasts into retinal pigment epithelium-like cells by defined factors

Protein Cell. 2014 Jan;5(1):48-58. doi: 10.1007/s13238-013-0011-2. Epub 2014 Jan 29.


The generation of functional retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is of great therapeutic interest to the field of regenerative medicine and may provide possible cures for retinal degenerative diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Although RPE cells can be produced from either embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells, direct cell reprogramming driven by lineage-determining transcription factors provides an immediate route to their generation. By monitoring a human RPE specific Best1::GFP reporter, we report the conversion of human fibroblasts into RPE lineage using defined sets of transcription factors. We found that Best1::GFP positive cells formed colonies and exhibited morphological and molecular features of early stage RPE cells. Moreover, they were able to obtain pigmentation upon activation of Retinoic acid (RA) and Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) signaling pathways. Our study not only established an ideal platform to investigate the transcriptional network regulating the RPE cell fate determination, but also provided an alternative strategy to generate functional RPE cells that complement the use of pluripotent stem cells for disease modeling, drug screening, and cell therapy of retinal degeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bestrophins
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Lineage
  • Chloride Channels / genetics
  • Chloride Channels / metabolism
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Eye Proteins / genetics
  • Eye Proteins / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / cytology*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Pigmentation
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / cytology*
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • BEST1 protein, human
  • Bestrophins
  • Chloride Channels
  • Eye Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins