Over the past several decades, developmental biologists have discovered fundamental mechanisms by which organs form in developing embryos. With this information it is now possible to generate human “organoids” by the stepwise differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells using a process that recapitulates organ development. For the gastrointestinal tract, one of the first key steps is the formation of definitive endoderm and mesoderm, a process that relies on the TGFb molecule Nodal. Endoderm is then patterned along the anterior-posterior axis, with anterior endoderm forming the foregut and posterior endoderm forming the mid and hindgut. A-P patterning of the endoderm is accomplished by the combined activities of Wnt, BMP, and FGF. High Wnt and BMP promote a posterior fate, whereas repressing these pathways promotes an anterior endoderm fate. The stomach derives from the posterior foregut and retinoic acid signaling is required for promoting a posterior foregut fate. The small and large intestine derive from the mid and hindgut, respectively.
These stages of gastrointestinal development can be precisely manipulated through the temporal activation and repression of the pathways mentioned above. For example, stimulation of the Nodal pathway with the mimetic Activin A, another TGF-β superfamily member, can trigger the differentiation of pluripotent stem cells into definitive endoderm (D’Amour et al., Nat Biotechnol 23:1534–1541, 2005). Exposure of definitive endoderm to high levels of Wnt and FGF promotes the formation of posterior endoderm and mid/hindgut tissue that expresses CDX2. Mid-hindgut spheroids that are cultured in a three-dimensional matrix form human intestinal organoids (HIOs) that are small intestinal in nature Spence et al., Nature 2011. In contrast, activation of FGF and Wnt in the presence of the BMP inhibitor Noggin promotes the formation of anterior endoderm and foregut tissues that express SOX2. These SOX2-expressing foregut spheroids can be further patterned into posterior foregut by addition of retinoic acid. Once formed, these posterior foregut spheroids can be grown in three-dimensional human gastric organoids (HGOs) that have all of the cell types of antral part of the stomach (Mc Cracken et al. 2014).
Here, we describe the detailed methods for generating stomach/human gastric organoids (HGOs) and human intestinal organoids (HIOs) from human pluripotent stem cells. We first present a method for generating definitive endoderm from pluripotent stem cells followed by differentiation of definitive endoderm into either posterior foregut spheroids or mid-hindgut spheroids. We then describe how three-dimensional culturing of these spheroids results in the formation of HGOs and HIOs, respectively.
- Definitive endoderm
- Human pluripotent stem cells
- Gastric organoids
- Intestinal organoids