Transcriptome-based molecular staging of human stem cell-derived retinal organoids uncovers accelerated photoreceptor differentiation by 9-cis retinal
Retinal organoids generated from human pluripotent stem cells exhibit considerable variability in temporal dynamics of differentiation. To assess the maturity of neural retina in vitro, we performed transcriptome analyses of developing organoids from human embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cell lines. We show that the developmental variability in organoids was reflected in gene expression profiles and could be evaluated by molecular staging with the human fetal and adult retinal transcriptome data. We also demonstrated that addition of 9-cis retinal, instead of widely-used all-trans retinoic acid, accelerated rod photoreceptor differentiation in organoid cultures, with higher rhodopsin expression and more mature mitochondrial morphology evident by day 120. Our studies thus provide an objective transcriptome-based modality for determining the differentiation state of retinal organoids, which should facilitate disease modeling and evaluation of therapies in vitro.