Embryonic stem cell derived macrophages as a model for studying liver fibrosis and a potential source of cells for therapy
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/12/2100
Haideri, Sharmin Shabbir
The difference between the number of patients needing transplantation for chronic liver disease and the number of organ donors is growing, drawing attention to the urgent requirement for novel therapies. Chronic liver injury is commonly caused by viral hepatitis, alcohol consumption, obesity and metabolic disorders. Prolonged liver injury leads to fibrosis, hepatic scarring and eventually cirrhosis. This project is based on previous studies demonstrating the therapeutic effects of bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMDM) in a murine model of liver fibrosis. BMDM facilitated fibrosis regression and improved liver regeneration. Pro-resolution macrophages exhibited increased expression of MMPs, growth factors and phagocytosis-related genes. However, macrophages derived from bone marrow are inherently heterogeneous and difficult to genetically manipulate. To overcome this limitation, our laboratory has established a protocol whereby pure populations of macrophages can be produced in significant numbers from murine embryonic stem cells (ESC) in vitro, providing an essentially limitless source of macrophages. The first goal of this project was to compare macrophages derived from ESCs (ESDM) with classical BMDM. ESDM displayed characteristic macrophage morphology, could be activated and responded to different cytokines in vitro, and were functionally phagocytic. However, they displayed some differences in their gene expression profile, and were found to be less phagocytic than BMDM. We then assessed whether ESDM could be used in the treatment of a murine model of hepatic injury induced by carbon tetrachloride administration. ESDM therapy helped in the regression of liver fibrosis, down-regulated the number of fibrogenic myofibroblasts, and activated liver progenitor cells. However, a higher number of ESDM compared to BMDMs were required to exert that effect. To assess whether ESDM may be similar to yolk sac derived tissue-resident macrophages, rather than monocyte-derived, we compared their behaviour in a Kupffer cell repopulation assay. Macrophages were depleted using liposomal clodronate treatment then animals were transplanted with either ESDM or BMDM. We demonstrated that ESDM were more efficient than BMDM at repopulating the Kupffer cell compartment and reversing the effects of liposomal clodronate treatment in mice. It is well known that macrophages are very difficult to genetically modify. So our strategy was to genetically modify ESC and then differentiate them to macrophages that carry the modification. By genetically modifying ESCs, we attempted to produce pro-fibrolytic ESDM that over-express MMP12 which is a member of the matrix metalloproteinase family of genes that mainly degrades elastin, an extracellular matrix component. We initially employed a Tet-On 3G expression system to create an ESC line where MMP12 could be expressed in an inducible manner in differentiated macrophages. However, although this inducible strategy functioned in undifferentiated ESCs we could not induce the expression of MMP12 in differentiated macrophages. In an attempt to overcome possible gene-silencing issues, we designed and constructed an expression strategy such that Mmp12 was expressed specifically in macrophages. The ESC line was built such that Mmp12 expression would be driven by the promoter of macrophage colony stimulating factor-1 receptor gene (Csf-1r or c-fms). Using the CRISPR/Cas9 strategy, we successfully targeted the Mmp12 cDNA to the Csf-1r locus but ESDM that were differentiated from targeted ESC lines did not express Mmp12. Thus, despite having adopted two independent strategies, we have failed to generate genetically modified macrophages. As a first step to translate the therapeutic effects of macrophages into the clinical setting, we optimized a feeder- and serum-free protocol to efficiently generate macrophages from human induced pluripotent stem cells.