Differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells towards definitive endoderm (DE) is the critical first step for generating cells comprising organs such as the gut, liver, pancreas and lung. This in-vitro differentiation process generates a heterogeneous population with a proportion of cells failing to differentiate properly and maintaining expression of pluripotency factors such as Oct4. RNA sequencing of single cells collected at four time points during a 4-day DE differentiation identified high expression of metallothionein genes in the residual Oct4-positive cells that failed to differentiate to DE. Using X-ray fluorescence microscopy and multi-isotope mass spectrometry, we discovered that high intracellular zinc level corresponds with persistent Oct4 expression and failure to differentiate. This study improves our understanding of the cellular heterogeneity during in-vitro directed differentiation and provides a valuable resource to improve DE differentiation efficiency.
Keywords: Definitive endoderm; Differentiation; Heterogeneity; RNA sequencing; Single cell; hPSC.
Copyright © 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.