Glaucoma represents a group of multifactorial diseases with a unifying pathology of progressive retinal ganglion cell (RGC) degeneration, causing irreversible vision loss. To test the hypothesis that RGCs are intrinsically vulnerable in glaucoma, we have developed an in vitro model using the SIX6 risk allele carrying glaucoma patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for generating functional RGCs. Here, we demonstrate that the efficiency of RGC generation by SIX6 risk allele iPSCs is significantly lower than iPSCs-derived from healthy, age- and sex-matched controls. The decrease in the number of RGC generation is accompanied by repressed developmental expression of RGC regulatory genes. The SIX6 risk allele RGCs display short and simple neurites, reduced expression of guidance molecules, and immature electrophysiological signature. In addition, these cells have higher expression of glaucoma-associated genes, CDKN2A and CDKN2B, suggesting an early onset of the disease phenotype. Consistent with the developmental abnormalities, the SIX6 risk allele RGCs display global dysregulation of genes which map on developmentally relevant biological processes for RGC differentiation and signaling pathways such as mammalian target of rapamycin that integrate diverse functions for differentiation, metabolism, and survival. The results suggest that SIX6 influences different stages of RGC differentiation and their survival; therefore, alteration in SIX6 function due to the risk allele may lead to cellular and molecular abnormalities. These abnormalities, if carried into adulthood, may make RGCs vulnerable in glaucoma. Stem Cells 2017;35:2239-2252.
Keywords: Glaucoma; In vitro disease modeling/patient specific Induced pluripotent stem cell; RNA-Seq; Retinal ganglion cells; SIX6.
© 2017 AlphaMed Press.