BACKGROUND - Due to their ability to limitlessly proliferate and specialize into almost any cell type, human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) offer an unprecedented opportunity to generate human brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs), which compose the blood-brain barrier (BBB), for research purposes. Unfortunately, the time, expense, and expertise required to differentiate iPSCs to purified BMECs precludes their widespread use. Here, we report the use of a defined medium that accelerates the differentiation of iPSCs to BMECs while achieving comparable performance to BMECs produced by established methods.
METHODS - Induced pluripotent stem cells were seeded at defined densities and differentiated to BMECs using defined medium termed E6. Resultant purified BMEC phenotypes were assessed through trans-endothelial electrical resistance (TEER), fluorescein permeability, and P-glycoprotein and MRP family efflux transporter activity. Expression of endothelial markers and their signature tight junction proteins were confirmed using immunocytochemistry. The influence of co-culture with astrocytes and pericytes on purified BMECs was assessed via TEER measurements. The robustness of the differentiation method was confirmed across independent iPSC lines.
RESULTS - The use of E6 medium, coupled with updated culture methods, reduced the differentiation time of iPSCs to BMECs from thirteen to 8 days. E6-derived BMECs expressed GLUT-1, claudin-5, occludin, PECAM-1, and VE-cadherin and consistently achieved TEER values exceeding 2500 Ω × cm across multiple iPSC lines, with a maximum TEER value of 4678 ± 49 Ω × cm and fluorescein permeability below 1.95 × 10 cm/s. E6-derived BMECs maintained TEER above 1000 Ω × cm for a minimum of 8 days and showed no statistical difference in efflux transporter activity compared to BMECs differentiated by conventional means. The method was also found to support long-term stability of BMECs harboring biallelic PARK2 mutations associated with Parkinson's Disease. Finally, BMECs differentiated using E6 medium responded to inductive cues from astrocytes and pericytes and achieved a maximum TEER value of 6635 ± 315 Ω × cm, which to our knowledge is the highest reported in vitro TEER value to date.
CONCLUSIONS - Given the accelerated differentiation, equivalent performance, and reduced cost to produce BMECs, our updated methods should make iPSC-derived in vitro BBB models more accessible for a wide variety of applications.