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Subtype-specific differentiation of cardiac pacemaker cell clusters from human induced pluripotent stem cells


Koenen,  Michael
Department of Cell Physiology, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Max Planck Society;

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Schweizer, P. A., Darche, F. F., Ullrich, N. D., Geschwill, P., Greber, B., Rivinius, R., et al. (2017). Subtype-specific differentiation of cardiac pacemaker cell clusters from human induced pluripotent stem cells. Stem Cell Research, 8(229), 1-15. doi:10.1186/s13287-017-0681-4.

Background Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) harbor the potential to differentiate into diverse cardiac cell types. Previous experimental efforts were primarily directed at the generation of hiPSC-derived cells with ventricular cardiomyocyte characteristics. Aiming at a straightforward approach for pacemaker cell modeling and replacement, we sought to selectively differentiate cells with nodal-type properties. Methods hiPSC were differentiated into spontaneously beating clusters by co-culturing with visceral endoderm-like cells in a serum-free medium. Subsequent culturing in a specified fetal bovine serum (FBS)-enriched cell medium produced a pacemaker-type phenotype that was studied in detail using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR), immunocytochemistry, and patch-clamp electrophysiology. Further investigations comprised pharmacological stimulations and co-culturing with neonatal cardiomyocytes. Results hiPSC co-cultured in a serum-free medium with the visceral endoderm-like cell line END-2 produced spontaneously beating clusters after 10–12 days of culture. The pacemaker-specific genes HCN4, TBX3, and TBX18 were abundantly expressed at this early developmental stage, while levels of sarcomeric gene products remained low. We observed that working-type cardiomyogenic differentiation can be suppressed by transfer of early clusters into a FBS-enriched cell medium immediately after beating onset. After 6 weeks under these conditions, sinoatrial node (SAN) hallmark genes remained at high levels, while working-type myocardial transcripts (NKX2.5, TBX5) were low. Clusters were characterized by regular activity and robust beating rates (70–90 beats/min) and were triggered by spontaneous Ca2+ transients recapitulating calcium clock properties of genuine pacemaker cells. They were responsive to adrenergic/cholinergic stimulation and able to pace neonatal rat ventricular myocytes in co-culture experiments. Action potential (AP) measurements of cells individualized from clusters exhibited nodal-type (63.4%) and atrial-type (36.6%) AP morphologies, while ventricular AP configurations were not observed. Conclusion We provide a novel culture media-based, transgene-free approach for targeted generation of hiPSC-derived pacemaker-type cells that grow in clusters and offer the potential for disease modeling, drug testing, and individualized cell-based replacement therapy of the SAN.