PloS one

Direct reprogramming of human fibroblasts to hepatocyte-like cells by synthetic modified mRNAs.

PMID 24963715


Direct reprogramming by overexpression of defined transcription factors is a promising new method of deriving useful but rare cell types from readily available ones. While the method presents numerous advantages over induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell approaches, a focus on murine conversions and a reliance on retroviral vectors limit potential human applications. Here we address these concerns by demonstrating direct conversion of human fibroblasts to hepatocyte-like cells via repeated transfection with synthetic modified mRNAs. Hepatic induction was achieved with as little as three transcription factor mRNAs encoding HNF1A plus any two of the factors, FOXA1, FOXA3, or HNF4A in the presence of an optimized hepatic growth medium. We show that the absolute necessity of exogenous HNF1A mRNA delivery is explained both by the factor's inability to be activated by any other factors screened and its simultaneous ability to strongly induce expression of other master hepatic transcription factors. Further analysis of factor interaction showed that a series of robust cross-activations exist between factors that induce a hepatocyte-like state. Transcriptome and small RNA sequencing during conversion toward hepatocyte-like cells revealed global preferential activation of liver genes and miRNAs over those associated with other endodermal tissues, as well as downregulation of fibroblast-associated genes. Induced hepatocyte-like cells also exhibited hepatic morphology and protein expression. Our data provide insight into the process by which direct hepatic reprogramming occurs in human cells. More importantly, by demonstrating that it is possible to achieve direct reprogramming without the use of retroviral gene delivery, our results supply a crucial step toward realizing the potential of direct reprogramming in regenerative medicine.