Ischemic retinopathies are major causes of blindness worldwide. Local hypoxia created by loss of vascular supply leads to tissue injury and aberrant neovascularization in the retina. There is a great need for therapies that enhance revascularization of hypoxic neuroretinal tissue. To test the therapeutic feasibility of human-induced pluripotent stem cell–derived endothelial cells (hiPSC-ECs) for the treatment of ischemic retinopathies, we compared the angiogenic potential of hiPSC-ECs with mature human retinal endothelial cells (HRECs) in response to hypoxia. hiPSC-ECs formed more robust and complex vascular networks in collagen gels, whereas HRECs displayed minimal sprouting. The cells were further tested in the mouse oxygen-induced retinopathy (OIR) model. Retinas with hiPSC-EC injection showed colocalization with host vessels, whereas HRECs lacked such responses. hiPSC-ECs markedly reduced vaso-obliteration and pathological neovascularization. This beneficial effect of hiPSC-ECs was explained by the stromal cell–derived factor-1a (SDF1a)/CXCR4 axis; hiPSC-ECs exhibited much higher cell-surface expression of CXCR4 than HRECs and greater chemotaxis toward SDF1a-embedded 3D collagen hydrogel. Furthermore, treatment with neutralizing antibody to CXCR4 abolished recruitment of hiPSCs in the OIR model. These findings suggest superior angiogenic potential of hiPSC-ECs under hypoxia and underscore the importance of SDF1a/CXCR4 in the reparative function of hiPSC-ECs in ischemic diseases.
Hongkwan Cho, Bria L. Macklin, Ying-Yu Lin, Lingli Zhou, Michael J. Lai, Grace Lee, Sharon Gerecht, Elia J. Duh