IPSC-derived trophoblasts: a novel model for infections at the maternal fetal interface
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BACKGROUND: The placenta is a multifunctional organ whose primary functions are to nourish and protect the fetus throughout gestation. The immune response of the placenta plays an important part in gestational outcome. Microbial infection during pregnancy can be detrimental to both maternal health and fetal development, increasing the risk for miscarriage, preterm birth, and congenital abnormalities. However, evaluating immunological response has been an on-going challenge for scientists and clinicians due to the complexity of the maternal-fetal interface. Research has been done to understand the mechanisms by which pathogens activate placental immune response, but our understanding is still lacking in many areas due to the dynamic changes that occur in immunology over the gestational timeline. The primary challenge faced by researchers is the availability of placental tissue, which is limited by donors and their finite viability in culture once harvested. Additionally, legal restrictions placed on fetal-tissue research have severely limited advancement in the field. Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) present a unique tool to study the differentiation of trophoblasts and maternal-placental immunology without the need of fetal tissue. OBJECTIVE: The goal of this project is to develop an in vitro model for studying placental immunology and pathogenesis using human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived trophoblasts. Our aim is to report a robust protocol for producing hiPSC-derived trophoblasts and to characterize them against primary trophoblasts using both gene and protein expression detection techniques. Successful modeling of human trophoblasts would allow us the unique opportunity to investigate the cellular interface between the maternal and fetal systems without needing to isolate primary human trophoblasts. Once we produce and fully characterize several hiPSC cell clones from multiple normal individuals, we will demonstrate the use of these cells as a model for infections at the maternal-fetal interface by exposing them to viral pathogens known to target the placenta. METHODS: Earlier publications have reported the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into trophoblasts in culture by using bone morphogenetic protein-4 in conjunction with inhibitors of activin A and FGF2-signaling (BMP4/A83-01/PD173074; BAP-treatment). We applied this approach to hiPSC lines from two different lineage origins and characterized the outcome against known trophoblast markers. We also developed a novel approach to maintain proliferative trophoblast stem cells in culture long term. Two viral pathogens, a recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus strain engineered to express a green fluorescent protein (rVSV-GFP) and a strain of Zika virus (ZIKV-PRVABC59), were used to determine if it is possible to infect hiPSC-derived trophoblasts in culture. RESULTS: Using this approach, hiPSC readily differentiate into trophoblasts by day 8 of culture. These cells demonstrate formation of multinuclear syncytium, invasive capacities, and secretion of placental hormones. Further characterization using quantitative real-time PCR and immunofluorescent staining indicates that these cells express a number of trophoblast markers at levels comparable to those expressed by primary first-trimester trophoblasts. We were also able to maintain a putative CT population which retains the capacity to double and give rise to terminal cell types. HiPSC-derived trophoblasts infected with rVSV-GFP and ZIKV-PRVABC59 tested positive for viral infection by 72 hours post-infection (HPI), demonstrating the use of these cells as an in vitro model for studying placental pathogens at the maternal-fetal interface.
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