The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 45: 633 - 642 (2001)

Vol 45, Issue 4

Formation of retinal pigment epithelium in vitro by transdifferentiation of neural retina cells

Published: 1 June 2001

M Opas, J R Davies, Y Zhou and E Dziak

Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Chick embryonic neural retina (NR) dedifferentiates in culture and can transdifferentiate spontaneously into retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). Both, primary RPE and transdifferentiated RPE (RPEt), are characterized by pigmentation, expression of RPE-specific protein, eRPEAG and lack of expression of the neural cell adhesion molecule, NCAM. In contrast, NR cells are unpigmented and express NCAM but not eRPE(AG). Functionally, both primary RPE and the RPEt cells display a pH(i) response to bFGF, which is different from that of the NR. We used these characteristics to distinguish cell types in primary cultures of chick NR and follow the changes in phenotype that occur during transdifferentiation. We show that the RPEt forms as small "islands" in the packed regions of the primary, "mother" NR cell sheets, in a stochastic process. Because of a small number of cells involved in the initiation of the transdifferentiation we refer to it as a "leader effect" to contrast it with the "community effect" which requires many competent cells to be present in a group to be able to respond to an inductive signal. The RPEt then expands centrifugally and underneath the surrounding NR sheet. To determine if the RPEt maintains its identity in isolation while displaying the RPE-typical phenotypic plasticity, we explanted the islands of RPEt and treated half of them with bFGF. The untreated RPEt maintained its closely packed, polygonal pigmented phenotype but the bFGF-treated RPEt transdifferentiated into a non-pigmented, NR-like phenotype, indicating that RPEt encompasses the full differentiation repertoire of native RPE.

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