Cells called fibroblasts can be chemically reprogrammed to produce photoreceptor-like cells that are shown to restore vision in mice. The findings are published in Nature.
The loss of photoreceptors — cells that sense light — is the common endpoint in most retinal diseases (such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy) and leads to irreversible blindness. Chemical reprogramming of cells may potentially help to reverse vision loss but the generation of sensory cells, such as photoreceptors, has remained a challenge.
Sai Chavala and colleagues identified a set of five compounds that can drive the conversion of fibroblasts (a type of cell that maintains the structural integrity of connective tissues) into rod photoreceptor-like cells (named chemically induced photoreceptor cells or CiPCs). Gene expression profiling of the CiPCs derived from mouse embryonic fibroblasts revealed that they were similar to rod photoreceptors. The authors then transplanted CiPCs into the eyes of 14 mice that had retinal degeneration to test whether these cells were capable of restoring pupil reflex and vision. They found that six of the mice had improved pupil response at low light conditions three and four weeks after transplantation. Restoration of visual function in these six mice was then assessed using a light aversion test (mice that can see tend to favour dark spaces). Here, the six mice that had undergone CiPCs transplantation were found to spend more time in a dark space compared to a blind mouse model.
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