Stem Cell


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Protocols in Current Issue
0 Q&A 972 Views Feb 20, 2024

Astrocytes are increasingly recognized for their important role in neurodegenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In ALS, astrocytes shift from their primary function of providing neuronal homeostatic support towards a reactive and toxic role, which overall contributes to neuronal toxicity and cell death. Currently, our knowledge on these processes is incomplete, and time-efficient and reproducible model systems in a human context are therefore required to understand and therapeutically modulate the toxic astrocytic response for future treatment options. Here, we present an efficient and straightforward protocol to generate human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived astrocytes implementing a differentiation scheme based on small molecules. Through an initial 25 days, hiPSCs are differentiated into astrocytes, which are matured for 4+ weeks. The hiPSC-derived astrocytes can be cryopreserved at every passage during differentiation and maturation. This provides convenient pauses in the protocol as well as cell banking opportunities, thereby limiting the need to continuously start from hiPSCs. The protocol has already proven valuable in ALS research but can be adapted to any desired research field where astrocytes are of interest.


Key features

• This protocol requires preexisting experience in hiPSC culturing for a successful outcome.

• The protocol relies on a small molecule differentiation scheme and an easy-to-follow methodology, which can be paused at several time points.

• The protocol generates >50 × 106 astrocytes per differentiation, which can be cryopreserved at every passage, ensuring a large-scale experimental output.


Graphical overview


Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 344 Views Nov 20, 2023

The blastocysts consist of dozens of cells of three distinct lineages: epiblast (Epi), trophoblast (TB), and primitive endoderm (PrE). All embryonic and extraembryonic tissues are derived from Epi, TB, and PrE. Stem cell lines representing preimplantation Epi and TB have been established and are known as embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and trophoblast stem cells (TSCs). Extraembryonic endoderm cells (XENCs) constitute a cell line that has been established from PrE. Although in vivo, PrE gives rise to visceral endoderm (VE), parietal endoderm (PE), and marginal zone endoderm (MZE); XENCs, on blastocyst injection into chimeras, primarily contribute to the distal region of PE. Here, we provide a comprehensive protocol for the establishment of fully potent primitive endoderm stem cell (PrESC) lines. PrESCs are established and maintained on mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) feeder cells in a serum-free medium supplemented with fibroblast growth factor 4 (FGF4), heparin, CHIR99021, and platelet-derived growth factor-AA (PDGF-AA). PrESCs co-express markers indicative of pluripotency and endoderm lineage commitment, exhibiting characteristics akin to those of PrE. On transplantation of PrESCs into blastocysts, they demonstrate a high efficiency in contributing to VE, PE, and MZE. PrESCs serve as a valuable model for studying PrE, sharing similarities in gene expression profiles and differentiation potential. PrESCs constitute a pivotal cornerstone for in vitro analysis of early developmental mechanisms and for studies of embryo reconstitution in vitro, particularly in conjunction with ESCs and TSCs.


Key features

• Establishment and maintenance of primitive endoderm stem cell (PrESCs) capable of recapitulating the developmental prowess inherent to PrE.

• Offering a source of PrE lineage for embryo-like organoid reconstitution studies.



Graphical overview


0 Q&A 272 Views Nov 20, 2023

Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) hold immense promise in regenerative medicine as they can differentiate into various cell lineages, including adipocytes, osteoblasts, and chondrocytes. Precisely guiding hiPSC-derived mesenchymal progenitor cells (iMSCs) towards specific differentiation pathways is crucial for harnessing their therapeutic potential in tissue engineering, disease modeling, and regenerative therapies. To achieve this, we present a comprehensive and reproducible protocol for effectively differentiating iMSCs into adipocytes and osteoblasts. The differentiation process entails culturing iMSCs in tailored media supplemented with specific growth factors, which act as cues to initiate adipogenic or osteogenic commitment. Our protocol provides step-by-step guidelines for achieving adipocyte and osteoblast differentiation, ensuring the generation of mature and functional cells. To validate the success of differentiation, key assessment criteria are employed. For adipogenesis, the presence of characteristic lipid droplets within the iMSC-derived cells is considered indicative of successful differentiation. Meanwhile, Alizarin Red staining serves as a marker for the osteogenic differentiation, confirming the formation of mineralized nodules. Importantly, the described method stands out due to its simplicity, eliminating the need for specialized equipment, expensive materials, or complex reagents. Its ease of implementation offers an attractive advantage for researchers seeking robust and cost-effective approaches to derive adipocytes and osteoblasts from iMSCs. Overall, this protocol establishes a foundation for exploring the therapeutic potential of hiPSC-derived cells and advancing the field of regenerative medicine.


Key features

• iMSC derivation in this protocol uses embryonic body formation technique.

• Adipogenesis and osteogenesis protocols were optimized for human iPSC-derived iMSCs.

• Derivation of iMSC from hiPSC was developed in a feeder-free culture condition.

• This protocol does not include human iPSC reprogramming strategies.


Graphical overview



Schematic representation of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) differentiation into adipocytes and osteoblasts via mesenchymal progenitors as intermediates
0 Q&A 744 Views Nov 5, 2023

Brain organoids have been widely used to study diseases and the development of the nervous system. Many reports have investigated the application of brain organoids, but most of these models lack vascular structures, which play essential roles in brain development and neurological diseases. The brain and blood vessels originate from two different germ layers, making it difficult to induce vascularized brain organoids in vitro. We developed this protocol to generate brain-specific blood vessel and cerebral organoids and then fused them at a specific developmental time point. The fused cerebral organoids exhibited robust vascular network-like structures, which allows simulating the in vivo developmental processes of the brain for further applications in various neurological diseases.


Key Features

• Culturing vascularized brain organoids using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs).

• The new approach generates not only neural cells and vessel-like networks but also brain-resident microglia immune cells in a single organoid.


Graphical overview



Workflow and timeline for vessel organoid and vascularized brain organoid generation. (By Figdraw, ID: RTIURffccf)

0 Q&A 366 Views Nov 5, 2023

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) generated from human sources are valuable tools for studying skeletal development and diseases, as well as for potential use in regenerative medicine for skeletal tissues such as articular cartilage. To successfully differentiate human iPSCs into functional chondrocytes, it is essential to establish efficient and reproducible strategies that closely mimic the physiological chondrogenic differentiation process. Here, we describe a simple and efficient protocol for differentiation of human iPSCs into chondrocytes via generation of an intermediate population of mesenchymal progenitors. These methodologies include step-by-step procedures for mesenchymal derivation, induction of chondrogenic differentiation, and evaluation of the chondrogenic marker gene expression. In this protocol, we describe the detailed procedure for successful derivation of mesenchymal progenitor population from human iPSCs, which are then differentiated into chondrocytes using high-density culture conditions by stimulating with bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2) or transforming growth factor beta-3 (TGFβ-3). The differentiated iPSCs exhibit temporal expression of cartilage genes and accumulation of a cartilaginous extracellular matrix in vitro, indicating successful chondrogenic differentiation. These detailed methodologies help effective differentiation of human iPSCs into the chondrogenic lineage to obtain functional chondrocytes, which hold great promise for modeling skeletal development and disease, as well as for potential use in regenerative medicine for cell-based therapy for cartilage regeneration.


Key features

• Differentiation of human iPSCs into chondrocytes using 3D culture methods.

• Uses mesenchymal progenitors as an intermediate for differentiation into chondrocytes.

0 Q&A 378 Views Oct 5, 2023

Adult neural stem/progenitor cells (NSPCs) in two neurogenic areas of the brain, the dentate gyrus and the subventricular zone, are major players in adult neurogenesis. Addressing specific questions regarding NSPCs outside of their niche entails in vitro studies through isolation and culture of these cells. As there is heterogeneity in their morphology, proliferation, and differentiation capacity between these two neurogenic areas, NSPCs should be isolated from each area through specific procedures and media. Identifying region-specific NPSCs provides an accurate pathway for assessing the effects of extrinsic factors and drugs on these cells and investigating the mechanisms of neurogenesis in both healthy and pathologic conditions. A great number of isolation and expansion techniques for NSPCs have been reported. The growth and expansion of NSPCs obtained from the dentate gyrus of aged rats are generally difficult. There are relatively limited data and protocols about NSPCs isolation and their culture from aged rats. Our approach is an efficient and reliable strategy to isolate and expand NSPCs obtained from young adult and aged rats. NSPCs isolated by this method maintain their self-renewal and multipotency.


Key features

• NSPCs isolated from the hippocampal dentate gyrus of young adult and aged rats, based on Kempermann et al. (2014) and Aligholi et al. (2014).

• Maintenance of NSPCs isolated from the dentate gyrus of aged rats (20–24 months) in our culture condition is feasible.

• According to our protocol, maximum growth of primary neurospheres obtained from isolated NSPCs of young and aged rats took 15 and 35 days, respectively.


Graphical overview



Isolation and expansion of neural stem/progenitor cells

0 Q&A 303 Views Sep 5, 2023

Adult stem cells play key roles in homeostasis and tissue repair. These cells are regulated by a tight control of transcriptional programs. For example, muscle stem cells (MuSCs), located beneath the basal lamina, exist in the quiescent state but can transition to an activated, proliferative state upon injury. The control of MuSC state depends on the expression levels of myogenic transcription factors. Recent studies revealed the presence of different mRNA isoforms, with distinct biological regulation. Quantifying the exact expression levels of the mRNA isoforms encoding these myogenic transcription factors is therefore key to understanding how MuSCs switch between cell states. Previously, quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) has been used to quantify RNA expression levels. However, qRT-PCR depends on large amounts of RNA input and only measures relative abundance. Here, we present a protocol for the absolute quantification of mRNA isoforms using microfluidic digital PCR (mdPCR). Primary MuSCs isolated from individual skeletal muscles (gastrocnemius and masseter) are lysed, and their RNA is reverse-transcribed into cDNA and copied into double-stranded DNA. Following exonuclease I digestion to remove remaining single-stranded DNA, the samples are loaded onto a mdPCR chip with TaqMan probes targeting the mRNA isoforms of interest, whereupon target molecules are amplified in nanoliter chambers. We demonstrate that mdPCR can give exact molecule counts per cell for mRNA isoforms encoding the myogenic transcription factor Pax3. This protocol enables the absolute quantification of low abundant mRNA isoforms in a fast, precise, and reliable way.


Graphical overview



Schematic overview of the workflow. (A) Isolation of individual muscles (gastrocnemius and masseter) from C57/BL6 mice followed by digestion using collagenase II and dispase. (B) Sorting of 500 cells directly into PCR tubes using fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). (C) Reverse transcription of mRNA to cDNA. (D) Polymerase reaction to generate a duplicated cDNA product. (E) Exonuclease I digestion to remove remaining single-stranded DNA and the non-hybridized primers. (F) Denaturation step to inactivate exonuclease I. (G) Loading the samples into the microfluidic chip. (H) Running the TaqMan Digital PCR assay in the Fluidigm Biomark HD real-time PCR machine. (I) Data analysis using the Digital PCR software.

0 Q&A 600 Views Aug 20, 2023

Kidney diseases are a global health concern. Modeling of kidney disease for translational research is often challenging because of species specificities or the postmitotic status of kidney epithelial cells that make primary cultures, for example podocytes. Here, we report a protocol for preparing primary cultures of podocytes based on the isolation and in vitro propagation of immature kidney progenitor cells subsequently differentiated into mature podocytes. This protocol can be useful for studying physiology and pathophysiology of human kidney progenitors and to obtain differentiated podocytes for modeling podocytopathies and other kidney disorders involving podocytes.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 970 Views Jul 20, 2023

Embryonic development is a complex process integrating cell fate decisions and morphogenesis in a spatiotemporally controlled manner. Previous studies with model organisms laid the foundation of our knowledge on post-implantation development; however, studying mammalian embryos at this stage is a difficult and laborious process. Early attempts to recapitulate mammalian development in vitro begun with embryoid bodies (EBs), in which aggregates of mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) were shown to differentiate into spatially arranged germ layers. A more revised version of EBs, gastruloids, improved the germ layer differentiation efficiency and demonstrated cell fate patterning on multiple axes. However, gastruloids lack anterior neural progenitors that give rise to brain tissues in the embryo. Here, we report a novel culture protocol to coax mESCs into post-implantation epiblast-like (EPI) aggregates in high throughput on bioengineered microwell arrays. We show that upon inhibition of the Wnt signaling pathway, EPI aggregates establish an extended axial patterning, leading to co-derivation of anterior neural progenitors and posterior tissues. Our approach is amenable to large-scale studies aimed at identifying novel regulators of gastrulation and anterior neural development that is currently out of reach with existing embryoid models. This work should contribute to the advancement of the nascent field of synthetic embryology, opening up exciting perspectives for various applications of pluripotent stem cells in disease modeling and tissue engineering.


Key features

• A new gastruloid culture system to model post-implantation mouse embryonic development in vitro

• High-throughput formation of epiblast-like aggregates on hydrogel microwells

• Builds upon conventional gastruloid cultures and provides insight into the role of Wnt signaling for the formation of anterior neural tissues


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 732 Views Jun 5, 2023

Cell populations and tissues exhibit unique gene expression profiles, which allow for characterizing and distinguishing cellular subtypes. Monitoring gene expression of cell type–specific markers can indicate cell status such as proliferation, stress, quiescence, or maturation. Quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR (qRT-PCR) allows quantifying RNA expression of cell type–specific markers and distinguishing one cell type from another. However, qRT-PCR methods such as TaqMan technology require fluorescent reporters to characterize target genes and are challenging to scale up as they need different probes for each reaction. Bulk or single-cell RNA transcriptomics is time-consuming and expensive. Processing RNA sequencing data can take several weeks, which is not optimal for quality control and monitoring gene expression, e.g., during a differentiation paradigm of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into a specialized cell type.

A more cost-effective assay is based on SYBR Green technology. SYBR Green is a nucleic acid dye that binds to double-stranded DNA, absorbs blue light at 497 nm, and emits green light at 520 nm up to 1,000-fold upon intercalation with double-stranded DNA. Amplification of a region of interest can be quantified based on the level of fluorescence intensity when normalized to a housekeeping gene and compared to control conditions. Previously, we established a SYBR Green qRT-PCR protocol to characterize samples using a limited set of markers plated on a 96-well plate.

Here, we optimize the process and increase throughput to a 384-well format and compare mRNA expression to distinguish iPSC-derived neuronal subtypes from each other by increasing the number of genes, cell types, and differentiation time points. In this protocol, we develop the following: i) using the command-line version of Primer3 software, we design primers more easily and quickly for the gene of interest; ii) using a 384-well plate format, electronic multichannel pipettes, and pipetting robots, we analyze four times more genes on a single plate while using the same volume of reagents as in a 96-well plate. The advantages of this protocol are the increased throughput of this SYBR Green assay while limiting pipetting errors/inconsistencies, reagent use, cost, and time.


Graphical overview



Figure 1. Overall optimized SYBR Green qRT-PCR workflow. (A) Primers are designed through the command-line version of Primer3. The program takes a couple of files as arguments: 1) an input file containing a sequence of the region of interest and a target, and 2) settings file with custom settings and primer picking conditions. The results are saved to a text file, checked for secondary and tertiary structures, then synthesized. (B) Primers are then plated using either multichannel pipettes with a pipetting aid or an automated pipetting robot. Plates are left to dry at room temperature and can be stored for an indefinite time. (C) Meanwhile, RNA is extracted from cell samples, reverse-transcribed into cDNA, then plated onto pre-coated 384-well plates. SYBR Green qRT-PCR is run and analyzed with QuantStudio software and Microsoft Excel.
0 Q&A 1141 Views Apr 20, 2023

A robust in vitro model of the human respiratory epithelium, including the alveolar and the airway epithelium, is essential for understanding the biology and pathology of the human respiratory system. We previously described a protocol to derive human lung organoids from primary lung tissues. We now describe a protocol to induce bidirectional differentiation to generate mature alveolar or airway organoids. The lung organoids are consecutively expanded for over one year with high stability, while the differentiated alveolar and airway organoids morphologically and functionally simulate the human alveolar and airway epithelium to a near-physiological level. Thus, we establish a robust organoid culture system of the entire human respiratory epithelium, the first two-phase bipotential organoid culture system that enables long-term expansion and bidirectional differentiation of respiratory epithelial cells. The long-term expandable lung organoids and differentiated organoids generate a stable and renewable source of respiratory epithelial cells, enabling scientists to reconstruct and expand the human respiratory epithelium in culture dishes. The respiratory organoid system provides a unique and physiologically active in vitro model of the human respiratory epithelium for various applications, including studying respiratory viral infection, disease modeling, drug screening, and pre-clinical testing.


Graphical overview





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