Retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells in the back of the eye nourish photoreceptor cells and form a selective barrier that influences drug transport from the blood to the photoreceptor cells. At the molecular level, ATP-dependent efflux transporters have a major role in drug delivery in human RPE. In this study, we assessed the relative expression of several ATP-dependent efflux transporter genes (MRP1, -2, -3, -4, -5, -6, p-gp, and BCRP), the protein expression and localization of MRP1, MRP4, and MRP5, and the functionality of MRP1 efflux pumps at different maturation stages of undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and RPE derived from the hESC (hESC-RPE). Our findings revealed that the gene expression of ATP-dependent efflux transporters MRP1, -3, -4, -5, and p-gp fluctuated during hESC-RPE maturation from undifferentiated hESC to fusiform, epithelioid, and finally to cobblestone hESC-RPE. Epithelioid hESC-RPE had the highest expression of MRP1, -3, -4, and P-gp, whereas the most mature cobblestone hESC-RPE had the highest expression of MRP5 and MRP6. These findings indicate that a similar efflux protein profile is shared between hESC-RPE and the human RPE cell line, ARPE-19, and suggest that hESC-RPE cells are suitable in vitro RPE models for drug transport studies. Embryonic stem cell model might provide a novel tool to study retinal cell differentiation, mechanisms of RPE -derived diseases, drug testing and targeted drug therapy.
Table S1: Gene expression data with standard deviations (SD) and calculations of statistical significance (p).