Developing a simple method to enhance the generation of cone and rod photoreceptors in pluripotent stem cell-derived retinal organoids

Stem Cells. 2020 Jan;38(1):45-51. doi: 10.1002/stem.3082. Epub 2019 Oct 31.


Cell replacement therapy is a promising treatment for irreversible retinal cell death in diverse diseases such as Stargardt's disease, age-related macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa. The final impact of all retinal dystrophies is the loss of photoreceptors; hence, there is a pressing need for research into replacement. Seminal work has shown that a simple three-dimensional culture system enables differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells to retinal organoids containing large numbers of photoreceptors developing alongside retinal neurons and Müller glia cells in a laminated structure that resembles the native retina. Despite these promising developments, current protocols show different efficiencies across pluripotent stem cells and result in retinal organoids with a mixture of photoreceptor cells at varying maturation states, along with nonphotoreceptor cell types. In this study, we investigated the impact of stage-specific addition of retinoic acid (RA), 9-cis-retinal, 11-cis-retinal, levodopa (l-DOPA), triiodothyronine (T3), and γ-secretase inhibitor ((2S)-N-[(3,5-Difluorophenyl)acetyl]-l-alanyl-2-phenyl]glycine1,1-dimethylethyl ester2L [DAPT]) in the generation of cone and rod photoreceptors. Our results indicate that addition of RA + T3 during days 90 to 120 of differentiation enhanced the generation of rod and S-cone photoreceptor formation, while the combined addition of DAPT from days 28 to 42 with RA during days 30 to 120 of differentiation led to enhanced generation of L/M-cones at the expense of rods. l-DOPA when added together with RA during days 90 to 120 of differentiation also promoted the emergence of S-cones at the expense of rod photoreceptors. Collectively, these data represent an advance in our ability to direct generation of rod and cone photoreceptors in vitro.

Keywords: photoreceptors; pluripotent stem cells; retinal organoids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation
  • Humans
  • Organoids / cytology
  • Organoids / metabolism*
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / cytology
  • Photoreceptor Cells, Vertebrate / metabolism*
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / cytology
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / metabolism*
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / cytology
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells / metabolism*