Development of Cell Lines from iPSCs for Bioassays

The reprogramming of differentiated somatic cells to pluripotency holds great promise for drug discovery and developmental biology. Using immortalized cell lines for drug screening assays has its limitations, such as questionable relevance; and the use of primary cells is often hindered by supply difficulties. Thanks to pioneering work by the Yamanaka, Thompson, and other groups, the feasibility of creating iPSCs has generated an opportunity to provide cell lines with stem cell properties in a virtually unlimited supply [1, 2]. These cells can be derived into different cell types for specific assays, even with patient- or genotype-specific background. Technologies are being developed to produce re-differentiated cells of a number of lineages.

Take cardiomyocytes as an example. There are a number of conventional methods for inducing stem cells into cardiomyocytes: through embryoid body (EB) formation, co-culturing with visceral endoderm-like cell line (END-2), and monolayer caridomyocyte differentiation with defined growth medium and protein factors [3]. A recent publication showed that using appropriate concentrations of BMP4 and activin-A in BSA-containing medium cardiomyocytes might be achieved from iPSCs or ESCs in about 6 days [4].

Transdifferentiation, or direct reprogramming, by introducing a group of 3 cardiomyocyte-specific factors, investigators could directly program cardiac or dermal fibroblasts into cardiomyocyte-like cells [5]. Although much refinement and characterization of these directly reprogrammed cardiomyocyte-like cells, termed iCMs, will be needed before the process can become widely used, this work raised the possibility of quicker and perhaps more efficient ways of generating cells for assays. Similar transdifferentiation has resulted in induced neuron (iN) cells, also by introducing 3 tissue-specific transcription factors [6]. Therefore, it seems that by using defined combinations of tissue-specific transcription factors it is possible to generate cells of different tissue types. It is also possible that by using different, developmental stage-specific transcription activator sets, transdifferentiation can be conducted in a stepwise way and make sure cells at each step is pure. This strategy may be particularly attractive if its efficiency can be improved by the techniques developed for iPSC creation. After all, reprogramming to pluripotency and transdifferentiation to different tissue types must share certain mechanistic steps in their respective processes.

In addition, it has been reported that by briefly overexpressing the Yamanaka iPS factors and controlling growth conditions, mouse fibroblasts could be transdifferentiated up to 40% in 18 days without reversing back to pluripotency [7]. It would be interesting to see if by transient expression of iPS factors via mRNA then switching to cardiomyocyte-specific transcription factors, we can increase the efficiency for direct reprogramming. Use of chromatin-modifying chemicals that were already shown to directly reverse and alter cell fates might also be used to assist direct reprogramming. We believe that a systematic approach for studying these reprogramming aspects should benefit the iPS fields.

1. Takahashi, K. and S. Yamanaka, Induction of pluripotent stem cells from mouse embryonic and adult fibroblast cultures by defined factors. Cell, 2006. 126(4): p. 663-76.
2. Yu, J., et al., Induced pluripotent stem cell lines derived from human somatic cells. Science, 2007. 318(5858): p. 1917-20.
3. Vidarsson, H., J. Hyllner, and P. Sartipy, Differentiation of human embryonic stem cells to cardiomyocytes for in vitro and in vivo applications. Stem Cell Rev, 2010. 6(1): p. 108-20.
4. Elliott, D.A., et al., NKX2-5(eGFP/w) hESCs for isolation of human cardiac progenitors and cardiomyocytes. Nat Methods, 2011.
5. Ieda, M., et al., Direct reprogramming of fibroblasts into functional cardiomyocytes by defined factors. Cell, 2010. 142(3): p. 375-86.
6. Pang, Z.P., et al., Induction of human neuronal cells by defined transcription factors. Nature, 2011. 476(7359): p. 220-3.
7. Efe, J.A., et al., Conversion of mouse fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes using a direct reprogramming strategy. Nat Cell Biol, 2011. 13(3): p. 215-22.

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Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 iPSCs and other stem cells No Comments

From iPSC to induced beta-cells, iN and iCM: dedifferentiation vs direct reprogramming

The success of inducing pluripotency in primary fibroblasts and other cells with a combination of only a small number of transcription factors suggested that fully differentiated cells might change fate following similar treatments. Since the demonstration of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), at least three examples have been published where 3 cell type-specific factors were selected from a pool of 10-20 candidates that, when expressed from viral vectors, could induce beta-cells, neurons, or cardiomyocytes.

Induced beta-cells [1]: Ngn3, Pdx1, and Mafa, adenovirus injected to in vivo targets

Induced neurons (iN) [2]: Ascl1, Brn2, and Myt1l, lentivirus infecting mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEF) or tail tip fibroblasts (TTF)

Induced cardiomyocytes (iCM) [3]: Gata4, Mef2c, and Tbx5, lentivirus infecting cardiac fibroblasts or TTF

In all 3 cases, the change of fate seemed to be via direct conversion, without passing through a progenitor cell fate before further differentiation. Like iPSC reprogramming, direct reprogramming also requires a transient supply of inducing factors. Unlike generating iPSCs, the percentage of cells getting reprogrammed is much higher in direct reprogramming, ~20% in the cases of iN and iCM vs 0.1-1% in iPSC. It is likely that a transient, inductive expression of essential factors jump-starts endogenous factors to establish cell fate specific programs; it has also been illustrated that chromatin remodeling through DNA methylation, histone modifications, etc. accompanies the direct reprogramming events.

The requirement of the full complement of inducting factors may vary depending on how close the original cell type is to the new cell type. iPSCs are typically created by using 4 genes, but can be created with just Sox2, Oct3/4 particularly when the cells to be reprogrammed are less differentiated, such as tissue progenitor cells. Instead of a more “complete” direct reprogramming from unrelated cells to iN and iCM, the induced beta-cells come from exocrine cells, which share parental cells with beta-cells.

Looking into the near future, it should be expected that cell type-specific gene expression profiles are being re-examined or created right this moment to look for candidate gene pools specific to other cell types, starting from those with cell therapy relevance. Lentivirus, retrovirus, adenovirus, or baculovirus for mammalian expression are being constructed to carry them into fibroblasts or cells that are close to the end product of direct reprogramming. In a few months, many of these inducing gene-expressing viruses will become shelf products as high titer viruses from suppliers like Allele Biotech, incorporating tools in viral packaging, fluorescent proteins, and polycistronic gene expression systems.

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1. Zhou, Q., J. Brown, A. Kanarek, J. Rajagopal, and D.A. Melton, In vivo reprogramming of adult pancreatic exocrine cells to beta-cells. Nature, 2008. 455(7213): p. 627-32.
2. Vierbuchen, T., A. Ostermeier, Z.P. Pang, Y. Kokubu, T.C. Sudhof, and M. Wernig, Direct conversion of fibroblasts to functional neurons by defined factors. Nature. 463(7284): p. 1035-41.
3. Ieda, M., J.D. Fu, P. Delgado-Olguin, V. Vedantham, Y. Hayashi, B.G. Bruneau, and D. Srivastava, Direct reprogramming of fibroblasts into functional cardiomyocytes by defined factors. Cell. 142(3): p. 375-86.

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Thursday, August 19th, 2010 iPSCs and other stem cells No Comments