Genetic modification of human embryonic stem cells for lineage selection, derivation and analyses of human 3rd pharyngeal pouch epithelium like cells and its derivatives
Kaushik2017 figures.zip (117.1Mb)
Kaushik, Suresh Kumar
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Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) such as, human embryonic stem cells (hES) and human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPS) are a valuable resource to generate bespoke cell types for a number of therapeutic applications involving cell therapy, drug screening and disease modelling. The overarching goal of this project was to generate a set of transgenic tools by gene targeting and genetic modification of hESCs for applications in stem cell biology such as the in vitro isolation, analyses and derivation of lineage specific cell types. The transgenic tools generated in this study were designed and tested in particular for the human 3rd pharyngeal pouch epithelium (3PPE) like cells and its derivatives, namely the thymus and parathyroid, which are key organs involved in T-cell development and calcium homeostasis respectively. The forkhead transcription factor FOXN1 is considered a master regulator of the development of the thymic epithelium (TEC), the major functional component of the thymic stroma, which is intimately involved in T-cell differentiation. So, to facilitate the prospective isolation of FOXN1 expressing TECs, gene targeting was employed to place a fluorescent reporter and a lineage selection antibiotic resistance gene under the direct control of the endogenous FOXN1 promoter. To date, I have not been able to detect either the fluorescent reporter, or FOXN1 expression using published directed differentiation protocols, but only what can be deemed as precursors expressing the cytokeratin K5 and other markers associated with the development of the thymus and parthyroid from 3PPE. The lack of endogenous FOXN1 activation was observed in both the unmodified parent and the targeted FOXN1 knock-in human ES lines. Further, over-expression of FOXN1 cDNA during the differentiation protocol did not result in the activation of endogenous FOXN1. So, the results evinced in this study could be due to a number of reasons such as, technical issues associated with transference of the published protocols to the cell lines used in this study, differences in hESC lines, and effects of different hESC culture methods and practices. The homeobox gene HOXA3 is expressed in the 3PPE during development. So, a HOXA3 transgenic reporter hESC line could be an invaluable tool for prospective isolation of in vitro derived 3PPE like cells. The reporter was generated by Piggy Bac transposase mediated transposition of a HOXA3 containing Bacterial Artificial Chromsome (BAC) in the FOXN1 knock-in human ES line. To date, this is biggest reported cargo that has been successfully transposed in human ESCs. Moreover, this is the first lineage specific double reporter transgenic hESC line that has been reported for this lineage. This HOXA3 reporter line was then used to isolate and enrich for HOXA3 expressing 3PPE like cells with very high efficiencies during the directed differentiation of hESCs, thus demonstrating the key objective of this transgenic hESC line for this study. In a novel parallel approach, I have conceived, designed and generated transgenic hESCs lines capable of inducible and constitutive over-expression of key transcription factors involved in the development of 3PPE and its derivatives, the thymus and parathyroid. The objective of the said over-expression hESC lines was to interrogate if such a system could elicit morphological and gene expression changes in hESCs following over-expression. By testing the chosen panel of transcription factors in hESCs, I was able to detect cells expressing FOXN1 and GCMB, which are key markers of TECs and PTECs. Further, I have isolated an expandable population of cells expressing markers analogous to their in vivo counterpart found in the 3PPE of a developing mouse embryo around E9.0. The in vivo potency of these in vitro derived 3PPE like cells is yet to be ascertained. Nevertheless, transgenic constructs generated in this experiment could also be tested during future attempts at the differentiation of hESCs to TECs and PTECs, and also used as a basis for future studies involving the direct conversion of patient specific fibroblasts to 3PPE like cells and its derivatives. In summary, several transgenic tools developed in this project, namely the FOXN1 knock-in transgenic hESC line, FOXN1-HOXA3 double transgenic hESC line, over-expression 3PPE transgenes and hESC transgenic lines, and results from the deployment of these tools provide a foundation, from which protocols to generate functional TECs and PTECs can be refined and optimised. These transgenic hESC lines also provide a tractable model, which could be used to interrogate the development of human TECs and PTECs from human 3PPE, and identify hitherto unknown early events in their development in an in vitro reductionist setting.