Novel Culture Strategies and Signal Transduction Pathways of Pluripotent Stem Cells
Abstract: Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) can self-renew indefinitely in culture while maintaining their capacity to differentiate into any cell type of an organism, thus offering novel sources for drug screening, in vitro disease modelling, and cell replacement therapies. However, due to their sensitive nature, many PSC lines are still cultured using undefined components such as serum or serum-derived components, on either feeder cells or complex protein mixes such as Matrigel or gelatine. In order to fully realize the potential of these cells we need controlled, completely defined and xeno-free culturing conditions that maintain growth and survival of homogenous, non-differentiated colonies. This thesis focuses on the in vitro maintenance of both mouse and human PSCs, analysing the media and substrate requirements of these cells and linking them to the intracellular signalling pathways involved in the maintenance of pluripotency and self-renewal. Benchmarking of commercially available culture methods for PSCs has been performed, evaluating their capacity to maintain pluripotency and growth of undifferentiated PSCs over several passages and reporting new characteristics, like the tendency of mouse PSCs to grow as floating spheres in 2i medium, a novel media formulation that uses two inhibitors to hinder differentiation capacity and subsequently induce pure, undifferentiated cultures. The major finding in this thesis is the identification of Inter-?-Inhibitor (I?I) as a protein able to activate the previously described signal-transduction pathway Yes/YAP/TEAD in mouse PSCs and to induce transcription of the well-known stem cell transcription factors Nanog and Oct3/4. I?I is a serum protein found in high concentration in human serum that had been traditionally described as an extracellular matrix remodelling protein. For the first time, we describe I?I to have signalling capacity on PSCs. Moreover, I?I is demonstrated to induce attachment, growth and long-term survival of undifferentiated mouse and human PSCs when added to serum-free, chemically defined media. I?I is the first molecule described to date to induce attachment of human PSCs on uncoated, standard tissue-culture treated plastic, just by supplementation as a soluble molecule at the seeding step. Following this discovery, we evaluate a novel culture method using the completely defined, serum-free E8 medium supplemented with I?I (E8:I?I) for long-term propagation of four different human PSC lines and discover that I?I can indeed support long-term culture with maintained pluripotency, differentiation capacity, growth rate and genetic stability. Moreover, in contrast to the control culture method using a commercially available surface coating, I?I supplementation can support single cell passaging of human PSCs, and adapt feeder-dependent cultured human PSCs to E8:I?I with high efficiency. A mouse PSC line is also grown for over 20 passages in I?I with retained pluripotency, differentiation capacity and genetic stability.I?I is inexpensive to produce and derived from human plasma, and could therefore be produced in compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices. Ultimately, our group aims to develop and test large-scale, completely defined, xeno-free culturing methods for PSCs, suitable for pharmacological and medical applications.
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