Contacting co-culture of human retinal microvascular endothelial cells alters barrier function of human embryonic stem cell derived retinal pigment epithelial cells

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Here we evaluated the effects of human retinal microvascular endothelial cells (hREC) on mature human embryonic stem cell (hESC) derived retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells.

The hESC-RPE cells (Regea08/017, Regea08/023 or Regea11/013) and hREC (ACBRI 181) were co-cultured on opposite sides of transparent membranes for up to six weeks. Thereafter barrier function, small molecule permeability, localization of RPE and endothelial cell marker proteins, cellular fine structure, and growth factor secretion of were evaluated.

After co-culture, the RPE specific CRALBP and endothelial cell specific von Willebrand factor were appropriately localized. In addition, the general morphology, pigmentation, and fine structure of hESC-RPE cells were unaffected. Co-culture increased the barrier function of hESC-RPE cells, detected both with TEER measurements and cumulative permeability of FD4 – although the differences varied among the cell lines. Co-culturing significantly altered VEGF and PEDF secretion, but again the differences were cell line specific.

The results of this study showed that co-culture with hREC affects hESC-RPE functionality. In addition, co-culture revealed drastic cell line specific differences, most notably in growth factor secretion. This model has the potential to be used as an in vitro outer blood-retinal barrier model for drug permeability testing.

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