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Sequential changes in the gene expression profile of murine retinal progenitor cells during the induction of differentiation



Following transplantation, cultured retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) integrate into the diseased host retina and exhibit morphologies and markers indicative of local cellular phenotypes. In vitro analysis of cultured RPCs allows detailed examination of marker gene expression during the initial phase of differentiation and can provide insight into the variables influencing this process.


Using cultured murine RPCs, this study compares the effects of fetal bovine serum (FBS) with those of ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF), individually or in combination with epidermal growth factor (EGF). Differentiation was assessed by way of the relative expression of 17 genes using quantitative PCR (qPCR) at five time points over a seven-day period.


Both CNTF and FBS rapidly altered the gene expression of RPCs, with very marked upregulation of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP; FBS>CNTF) and marked down-regulation of the proliferation marker Ki-67, consistent with the induction of differentiation. The evidence supports a preponderantly pro-glial influence for both the FBS and CNTF, however, neuronal markers were also upregulated to a lesser extent. Immunocytochemistry confirmed subpopulations labeling with neuronal markers, including rhodopsin. In the presence of sustained EGF stimulation, the differentiating influences of both FBS and CNTF remained perceptible as transient peaks of relative gene expression, but were markedly diminished overall.


This study shows that it is possible to compare the relative efficacy of in vitro differentiation protocols using murine RPCs and qPCR. The differentiating influences of both serum and CNTF were confirmed, but shown to be powerfully moderated by EGF. This suggests that EGF withdrawal is the dominant feature of these differentiation protocols and that exposure to either serum or CNTF is insufficient to irreversibly commit a cultured RPC population to terminal differentiation unless accompanied by concomitant cessation of mitogenic stimulation.

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