While in vitro liver tissue engineering has been increasingly studied during the last several years, presently engineered liver tissues lack the bile duct system. The lack of bile drainage not only hinders essential digestive functions of the liver, but also leads to accumulation of bile that is toxic to hepatocytes and known to cause liver cirrhosis. Clearly, generation of bile duct tissue is essential for engineering functional and healthy liver. Differentiation of human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to bile duct tissue requires long and/or complex culture conditions, and has been inefficient so far. Towards generating a fully functional liver containing biliary system, we have developed defined and controlled conditions for efficient 2D and 3D bile duct epithelial tissue generation. A marker for multipotent liver progenitor in both adult human liver and ductal plate in human fetal liver, EpCAM, is highly expressed in hepatic spheroids generated from human iPSCs. The EpCAM high hepatic spheroids can, not only efficiently generate a monolayer of biliary epithelial cells (cholangiocytes), in a 2D differentiation condition, but also form functional ductal structures in a 3D condition. Importantly, this EpCAM high spheroid based biliary tissue generation is significantly faster than other existing methods and does not require cell sorting. In addition, we show that a knock-in CK7 reporter human iPSC line generated by CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology greatly facilitates the analysis of biliary differentiation. This new ductal differentiation method will provide a more efficient method of obtaining bile duct cells and tissues, which may facilitate engineering of complete and functional liver tissue in the future.
Keywords: 3D tissue engineering; Ductal differentiation; Genome editing; Induced pluripotent stem cells; Liver progenitor; Spheroids.