All-trans retinoic acid modulates pigmentation, neuroretinal maturation, and corneal transparency in human multiocular organoids

Helena Isla-Magrané, Maddalen Zufiaurre-Seijo, José García-Arumí, Anna Duarri*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) plays an essential role during human eye development, being temporally and spatially adjusted to create gradient concentrations that guide embryonic anterior and posterior axis formation of the eye. Perturbations in ATRA signaling can result in severe ocular developmental diseases. Although it is known that ATRA is essential for correct eye formation, how ATRA influences the different ocular tissues during the embryonic development of the human eye is still not well studied. Here, we investigated the effects of ATRA on the differentiation and the maturation of human ocular tissues using an in vitro model of human-induced pluripotent stem cells-derived multiocular organoids. Methods: Multiocular organoids, consisting of the retina, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), and cornea, were cultured in a medium containing low (500 nM) or high (10 µM) ATRA concentrations for 60 or 90 days. Furthermore, retinal organoids were cultured with taurine and T3 to further study photoreceptor modulation during maturation. Histology, immunochemistry, qPCR, and western blot were used to study gene and protein differential expression between groups. Results: High ATRA levels promote the transparency of corneal organoids and the neuroretinal development in retinal organoids. However, the same high ATRA levels decreased the pigmentation levels of RPE organoids and, in long-term cultures, inhibited the maturation of photoreceptors. By contrast, low ATRA levels enhanced the pigmentation of RPE organoids, induced the opacity of corneal organoids—due to an increase in collagen type IV in the stroma— and allowed the maturation of photoreceptors in retinal organoids. Moreover, T3 promoted rod photoreceptor maturation, whereas taurine promoted red/green cone photoreceptors. Conclusion: ATRA can modulate corneal epithelial integrity and transparency, photoreceptor development and maturation, and the pigmentation of RPE cells in a dose-dependent manner. These experiments revealed the high relevance of ATRA during ocular tissue development and its use as a potential new strategy to better modulate the development and maturation of ocular tissue through temporal and spatial control of ATRA signaling.

Original languageEnglish
Article number376
JournalStem Cell Research and Therapy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2022


  • All-trans retinoic acid
  • Cornea
  • Ocular organoids
  • Retina
  • Retinal pigment epithelium
  • Stem cells


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