Single-Cell RNA-Sequencing and Optical Electrophysiology of Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Cardiomyocytes Reveal Discordance Between Cardiac Subtype-Associated Gene Expression Patterns and Electrophysiological Phenotypes

Stem Cells Dev. 2019 May 15;28(10):659-673. doi: 10.1089/scd.2019.0030. Epub 2019 Apr 17.


The ability to accurately phenotype cells differentiated from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) is essential for their application in modeling developmental and disease processes, yet also poses a particular challenge without the context of anatomical location. Our specific objective was to determine if single-cell gene expression was sufficient to predict the electrophysiology of iPSC-derived cardiac lineages, to evaluate the concordance between molecular and functional surrogate markers. To this end, we used the genetically encoded voltage indicator ArcLight to profile hundreds of hiPSC-derived cardiomyocytes (hiPSC-CMs), thus identifying patterns of electrophysiological maturation and increased prevalence of cells with atrial-like action potentials (APs) between days 11 and 42 of differentiation. To profile expression patterns of cardiomyocyte subtype-associated genes, single-cell RNA-seq was performed at days 12 and 40 after the populations were fully characterized with the high-throughput ArcLight platform. Although we could detect global gene expression changes supporting progressive differentiation, individual cellular expression patterns alone were not able to delineate the individual cardiomyocytes into atrial, ventricular, or nodal subtypes as functionally documented by electrophysiology measurements. Furthermore, our efforts to understand the distinct electrophysiological properties associated with day 12 versus day 40 hiPSC-CMs revealed that ion channel regulators SLMAP, FGF12, and FHL1 were the most significantly increased genes at day 40, categorized by electrophysiology-related gene functions. Notably, FHL1 knockdown during differentiation was sufficient to significantly modulate APs toward ventricular-like electrophysiology. Thus, our results establish the inability of subtype-associated gene expression patterns to specifically categorize hiPSC-derived cells according to their functional electrophysiology, and yet, altered FHL1 expression is able to redirect electrophysiological maturation of these developing cells. Therefore, noncanonical gene expression patterns of cardiac maturation may be sufficient to direct functional maturation of cardiomyocytes, with canonical gene expression patterns being insufficient to temporally define cardiac subtypes of in vitro differentiation.

Keywords: cardiomyocyte; differentiation; electrophysiology; gene expression; induced pluripotent stem cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / genetics
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics
  • LIM Domain Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / cytology*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / physiology*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA


  • FGF12 protein, human
  • FHL1 protein, human
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • LIM Domain Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Muscle Proteins
  • SLMAP protein, human
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors