The epicardium has emerged as a multipotent cardiovascular progenitor source with therapeutic potential for coronary smooth muscle cell, cardiac fibroblast (CF) and cardiomyocyte regeneration, owing to its fundamental role in heart development and its potential ability to initiate myocardial repair in injured adult tissues. Here, we describe a chemically defined method for generating epicardium and epicardium-derived smooth muscle cells (EPI-SMCs) and CFs from human pluripotent stem cells (HPSCs) through an intermediate lateral plate mesoderm (LM) stage. HPSCs were initially differentiated to LM in the presence of FGF2 and high levels of BMP4. The LM was robustly differentiated to an epicardial lineage by activation of WNT, BMP and retinoic acid signalling pathways. HPSC-derived epicardium displayed enhanced expression of epithelial- and epicardium-specific markers, exhibited morphological features comparable with human foetal epicardial explants and engrafted in the subepicardial space in vivo. The in vitro-derived epicardial cells underwent an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition when treated with PDGF-BB and TGFβ1, resulting in vascular SMCs that displayed contractile ability in response to vasoconstrictors. Furthermore, the EPI-SMCs displayed low density lipoprotein uptake and effective lowering of lipoprotein levels upon treatment with statins, similar to primary human coronary artery SMCs. Cumulatively, these findings suggest that HPSC-derived epicardium and EPI-SMCs could serve as important tools for studying human cardiogenesis, and as a platform for vascular disease modelling and drug screening.
- Received November 2, 2014.
- Accepted February 25, 2015.
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