Transdifferentiation of human fibroblasts into skeletal muscle cells: Optimization and assembly into engineered tissue constructs through biological ligands

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Al Jalila Foundation

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Research Article

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The development of robust skeletal muscle models has been challenging due to the partial recapitulation of human physiology and architecture. Reliable and innovative 3D skeletal muscle models recently described offer an alternative that more accurately captures the in vivo environment but require an abundant cell source. Direct reprogramming or transdifferentiation has been considered as an alternative. Recent reports have provided evidence for significant improvements in the efficiency of derivation of human skeletal myotubes from human fibroblasts. Herein we aimed at improving the transdifferentiation process of human fibroblasts (tHFs), in addition to the differentiation of murine skeletal myoblasts (C2C12), and the differentiation of primary human skeletal myoblasts (HSkM). Differentiating or transdifferentiating cells were exposed to single or combinations of biological ligands, including Follistatin, GDF8, FGF2, GDF11, GDF15, hGH, TMSB4X, BMP4, BMP7, IL6, and TNF-α. These were selected for their critical roles in myogenesis and regeneration. C2C12 and tHFs displayed significant differentiation deficits when exposed to FGF2, BMP4, BMP7, and TNF-α, while proliferation was significantly enhanced by FGF2. When exposed to combinations of ligands, we observed consistent deficit differentiation when TNF-α was included. Finally, our direct reprogramming technique allowed for the assembly of elongated, cross-striated, and aligned tHFs within tissue-engineered 3D skeletal muscle constructs. In conclusion, we describe an efficient system to transdifferentiate human fibroblasts into myogenic cells and a platform for the generation of tissue-engineered constructs. Future directions will involve the evaluation of the functional characteristics of these engineered tissues.

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