Hsiang-Tsun Chang, Rachel A. Heuer, Andrew M. Oleksijew, Kyle S. Coots, Christian B. Roque, Kevin T. Nella, Tammy L. McGuire, Akihiro J. Matsuoka
Although the application of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in stem cell–replacement therapy remains promising, its potential is hindered by a low cell survival rate in post-transplantation within the inner ear. Here, we aim to enhance the in vitro and in vivo survival rate and neuronal differentiation of otic neuronal progenitors (ONPs) by generating an artificial stem cell niche consisting of three-dimensional (3D) hESC-derived ONP spheroids with a nanofibrillar cellulose hydrogel and a sustained-release brain-derivative neurotrophic factor delivery system. Our results demonstrated that the transplanted hESC-derived ONP spheroids survived and neuronally differentiated into otic neuronal lineages in vitro and in vivo and also extended neurites toward the bony wall of the cochlea 90 days after the transplantation without the use of immunosuppressant medication. Our data in vitro and in vivo presented here provide sufficient evidence that we have established a robust, reproducible protocol for in vivo transplantation of hESC-derived ONPs to the inner ear. Using our protocol to create an artificial stem cell niche in the inner ear, it is now possible to work on integrating transplanted hESC-derived ONPs further and also to work toward achieving functional auditory neurons generated from hESCs. Our findings suggest that the provision of an artificial stem cell niche can be a future approach to stem cell–replacement therapy for inner-ear regeneration.