The Biphasic Effect of Retinoic Acid Signaling Pathway on the Biased Differentiation of Atrial-like and Sinoatrial Node-like Cells from hiPSC

Int J Stem Cells. 2022 Aug 30;15(3):247-257. doi: 10.15283/ijsc21148. Epub 2022 Feb 28.


Background and objectives: Although human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) can be efficiently differentiated into cardiomyocytes (CMs), the heterogeneity of the hiPSC-CMs hampers their applications in research and regenerative medicine. Retinoic acid (RA)-mediated signaling pathway has been proved indispensable in cardiac development and differentiation of hiPSC toward atrial CMs. This study was aimed to test whether RA signaling pathway can be manipulated to direct the differentiation into sinoatrial node (SAN) CMs.

Methods and results: Using the well-characterized GiWi protocol that cardiomyocytes are generated from hiPSC via temporal modulation of Wnt signaling pathway by small molecules, RA signaling pathway was manipulated during the differentiation of hiPSC-CMs on day 5 post-differentiation, a crucial time point equivalent to the transition from cardiac mesoderm to cardiac progenitor cells in cardiac development. The resultant CMs were characterized at mRNA, protein and electrophysiology levels by a combination of qPCR, immunofluorescence, flow cytometry, and whole-cell patch clamp. The results showed that activation of the RA signaling pathway biased the differentiation of atrial CMs, whereas inhibition of the signaling pathway biased the differentiation of sinoatrial node-like cells (SANLCs).

Conclusions: Our study not only provides a novel and simple strategy to enrich SANLCs but also improves our understanding of the importance of RA signaling in the differentiation of hiPSC-CMs.

Keywords: Atrial-like cells; Biased differentiation; Human-induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC); Retinoic acid (RA) signaling; Sinoatrial node-like cells (SANLCs).