Transdifferentiation of Human Fibroblasts to Endothelial Cells: Role of Innate Immunity
Background—Cell fate is fluid, and may be altered experimentally by the forced expression of master regulators mediating cell lineage. Such reprogramming has been achieved using viral vectors encoding transcription factors. We recently discovered that the viral vectors are more than passive vehicles for transcription factors, as they participate actively in the process of nuclear reprogramming to pluripotency by increasing epigenetic plasticity. Based on this recognition, we hypothesized that small molecule activators of toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3), together with external microenvironmental cues that drive EC specification, might be sufficient to induce transdifferentiation of fibroblasts into ECs (iECs).
Methods and Results—We show that TLR3 agonist Poly I:C, combined with exogenous EC growth factors, transdifferentiated human fibroblasts into ECs. These iECs were comparable to HMVEC in immunohistochemical, genetic and functional assays, including the ability to form capillary-like structures and to incorporate acetylated-LDL. Furthermore, iECs significantly improved limb perfusion and neovascularization in the murine ischemic hindlimb. Finally, using genetic knockdown studies, we find that the effective transdifferentiation of human fibroblasts to endothelial cells requires innate immune activation.
Conclusions—This study suggests that manipulation of innate immune signaling may be generally used to modify cell fate. As similar signaling pathways are activated by damage associated molecular patterns, epigenetic plasticity induced by innate immunity may play a fundamental role in transdifferentiation during wound healing and regeneration. Finally, this study is a first step toward development of a small molecule strategy for therapeutic transdifferentiation for vascular disease.
- Received November 8, 2013.
- Revision received October 18, 2014.
- Accepted October 23, 2014.