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Influence of NRL Loss on hESC-derived Retinal Organoids

Photoreceptor cells located in the retina are essential for vision and their degeneration leads to a large proportion of global blindness. While rod photoreceptors needed for night vision are prevalent, cone photoreceptors needed for high acuity daylight vision are rare. A new STEM CELLS article from researchers led by Jane C. Sowden (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, London, UK) now reports on the development of a human embryonic stem cell (hESC) line that lacks a functional NRL gene, which codes for a transcription factor required for the specification and homeostasis of mammalian rod photoreceptors. Cuevas et al. discovered that the differentiation of hESCs as three-dimensional retinal organoids promoted the formation of cone cells, but no rod cells. Overall, this study establishes the requirement of NRL for rod photoreceptor differentiation and describes a powerful means to generate enriched populations of cone photoreceptor cells in vitro.