In-depth characterisation of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC)

Caroline Brandl, Stephanie J. Zimmermann, Vladimir M. Milenkovic, Sibylle M.G. Rosendahl, Felix Grassmann, Andrea Milenkovic, Ute Hehr, Marianne Federlin, Christian H. Wetzel, Horst Helbig, Bernhard H.F. Weber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) has widely been appreciated as a promising tool to model human ocular disease emanating from primary RPE pathology. Here, we describe the successful reprogramming of adult human dermal fibroblasts to iPSCs and their differentiation to pure expandable RPE cells with structural and functional features characteristic for native RPE. Fibroblast cultures were established from skin biopsy material and subsequently reprogrammed following polycistronic lentiviral transduction with OCT4, SOX2, KLF4 and L-Myc. Fibroblast-derived iPSCs showed typical morphology, chromosomal integrity and a distinctive stem cell marker profile. Subsequent differentiation resulted in expandable pigmented hexagonal RPE cells. The cells revealed stable RNA expression of mature RPE markers RPE65, RLBP and BEST1. Immunolabelling verified localisation of BEST1 at the basolateral plasma membrane, and scanning electron microscopy showed typical microvilli at the apical side of iPSC-derived RPE cells. Transepithelial resistance was maintained at high levels during cell culture indicating functional formation of tight junctions. Secretion capacity was demonstrated for VEGF-A. Feeding of porcine photoreceptor outer segments revealed the proper ability of these cells for phagocytosis. IPSC-derived RPE cells largely maintained these properties after cryopreservation. Together, our study underlines that adult dermal fibroblasts can serve as a valuable resource for iPSC-derived RPE with characteristics highly reminiscent of true RPE cells. This will allow its broad application to establish cellular models for RPE-related human diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-564
Number of pages14
JournalNeuroMolecular Medicine
Issue number3
Early online date7 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgments: The authors wish to thank Johanna Käsbauer for excellent technical assistance with the karyotyping, Michael Landthaler and the Department of Dermatology, University Hospital Regensburg, for providing skin biopsies, Helga Ebensberger and Gerlinde Ferstl for help with the scanning electron microscopy and Miriam Breunig and Achim Göpferich from the Department of Pharmaceutical Technology, University of Regensburg, for their kind help with confocal microscopy. The authors also wish to thank Martina Zimmermann and Maya Fürstenau-Sharp, Department of Internal Medicine II, University Medical Center Regensburg, for valuable discussions and encouragement. This study was in part supported by a grant from Novartis Pharma GmbH, Nürnberg, Germany (Reference No. 3625340).


  • BEST1
  • Bestrophin-1
  • Dermal fibroblast
  • Induced pluripotent stem cell
  • Retinal pigment epithelium


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