Scaffold-Free Retinal Pigment Epithelium Microtissues Exhibit Increased Release of PEDF

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Oct 20;22(21):11317. doi: 10.3390/ijms222111317.


The retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) plays a critical role in photoreceptor survival and function. RPE deficits are implicated in a wide range of diseases that result in vision loss, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and Stargardt disease, affecting millions worldwide. Subretinal delivery of RPE cells is considered a promising avenue for treatment, and encouraging results from animal trials have supported recent progression into the clinic. However, the limited survival and engraftment of transplanted RPE cells delivered as a suspension continues to be a major challenge. While RPE delivery as epithelial sheets exhibits improved outcomes, this comes at the price of increased complexity at both the production and transplant stages. In order to combine the benefits of both approaches, we have developed size-controlled, scaffold-free RPE microtissues (RPE-µTs) that are suitable for scalable production and delivery via injection. RPE-µTs retain key RPE molecular markers, and interestingly, in comparison to conventional monolayer cultures, they show significant increases in the transcription and secretion of pigment-epithelium-derived factor (PEDF), which is a key trophic factor known to enhance the survival and function of photoreceptors. Furthermore, these microtissues readily spread in vitro on a substrate analogous to Bruch's membrane, suggesting that RPE-µTs may collapse into a sheet upon transplantation. We anticipate that this approach may provide an alternative cell delivery system to improve the survival and integration of RPE transplants, while also retaining the benefits of low complexity in production and delivery.

Keywords: ARPE-19; ESC-RPE; RPE; microtissue; ophthalmology; retina; tissue engineering.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Choroid / cytology
  • Eye Proteins / metabolism
  • Human Embryonic Stem Cells
  • Humans
  • Macular Degeneration / therapy
  • Nerve Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / cytology
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / metabolism*
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / transplantation*
  • Serpins / metabolism
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*


  • Eye Proteins
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Serpins
  • pigment epithelium-derived factor