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Transplanted hESC-Derived Retina Organoid Sheets Differentiate, Integrate, and Improve Visual Function in Retinal Degenerate Rats



To investigate whether sheets of retina organoids derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) can differentiate, integrate, and improve visual function in an immunodeficient rat model of severe retinal degeneration (RD).


3D hESC-derived retina organoids were analyzed by quantitative PCR and immunofluorescence. Sheets dissected from retina organoids (30-65 days of differentiation) were transplanted into the subretinal space of immunodeficient rho S334ter-3 rats. Visual function was tested by optokinetic testing and electrophysiologic recording in the superior colliculus. Transplants were analyzed at 54 to 300 days postsurgery by immunohistochemistry for donor and retinal markers.


Retina organoids contained multiple retinal cell types, including progenitor populations capable of developing new cones and rods. After transplantation into an immunodeficient rat model of severe RD, the transplanted sheets differentiated, integrated, and produced functional photoreceptors and other retinal cells, according to the longer human developmental timetable. Maturation of the transplanted retinal cells created visual improvements that were measured by optokinetic testing and electrophysiologic recording in the superior colliculus. Immunohistochemistry analysis indicated that the donor cells were synaptically active. Extensive transplant projections could be seen within the host RD retina. Optical coherence tomography imaging monitored long-term transplant growth and survival up to 10 months postsurgery.


These data demonstrate that the transplantation of sheets dissected from hESC-derived retina organoids is a potential therapeutic method for restoring vision in advanced stages of RD.

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