RPE injury often induces epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). Although RPE-EMT has been implicated in a variety of retinal diseases, including proliferative vitroretinopathy, neovascular and atrophic AMD, and diabetic retinopathy, it is not well-understood at the molecular level. To contribute to our understanding of EMT in human RPE, we performed a time-course transcriptomic analysis of human stem cell-derived RPE (hRPE) monolayers induced to undergo EMT using 2 independent, yet complementary, model systems.
EMT of human stem cell-derived RPE monolayers was induced by either enzymatic dissociation or modulation of TGF-β signaling. Transcriptomic analysis of cells at different stages of EMT was performed by RNA-sequencing, and select findings were confirmed by reverse transcription quantitative PCR and immunostaining. An ingenuity pathway analysis (IPA) was performed to identify signaling pathways and regulatory networks associated with EMT.
Proteocollagenolytic enzymatic dissociation and cotreatment with TGF-β and TNF-α both induce EMT in human stem cell-derived RPE monolayers, leading to an increased expression of mesenchymal factors and a decreased expression of RPE differentiation-associated factors. Ingenuity pathway analysis identified the upstream regulators of the RPE-EMT regulatory networks and identified master switches and nodes during RPE-EMT. Of particular interest was the identification of widespread dysregulation of axon guidance molecules during RPE-EMT progression.
The temporal transcriptome profiles described here provide a comprehensive resource of the dynamic signaling events and the associated biological pathways that underlie RPE-EMT onset. The pathways defined by these studies may help to identify targets for the development of novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of retinal disease.