Direct conversion of human fibroblasts into retinal pigment epithelium-like cells by defined factors

Kejing Zhang, Guang Hui Liu*, Fei Yi, Nuria Montserrat, Tomoaki Hishida, Concepcion Rodriguez Esteban, Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The generation of functional retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is of great therapeutic interest to the field of regenerative medicine and may provide possible cures for retinal degenerative diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Although RPE cells can be produced from either embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells, direct cell reprogramming driven by lineage-determining transcription factors provides an immediate route to their generation. By monitoring a human RPE specific Best1::GFP reporter, we report the conversion of human fibroblasts into RPE lineage using defined sets of transcription factors. We found that Best1::GFP positive cells formed colonies and exhibited morphological and molecular features of early stage RPE cells. Moreover, they were able to obtain pigmentation upon activation of Retinoic acid (RA) and Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) signaling pathways. Our study not only established an ideal platform to investigate the transcriptional network regulating the RPE cell fate determination, but also provided an alternative strategy to generate functional RPE cells that complement the use of pluripotent stem cells for disease modeling, drug screening, and cell therapy of retinal degeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-58
Number of pages11
JournalProtein and Cell
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • direct conversion
  • fibroblasts
  • retinal pigment epithelium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Drug Discovery
  • Cell Biology


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