Human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-derived cardiomyocytes have proven valuable for modeling disease and as a drug screening platform. Here, we depict an optimized protocol for the directed differentiation of hPSCs toward cardiomyocytes with an atrial identity by modulating the retinoic acid signaling cascade in spin embryoid bodies. The crucial steps of the protocol, including hPSC maintenance, embryoid body (EB) differentiation, the induction of cardiac mesoderm, direction toward the atrial phenotype, as well as molecular and functional characterization of the cardiomyocytes, are described. Atrial cardiomyocytes (AMs) can be generated within 14 days. Most importantly, we show that induction of the specific retinoic acid receptor alpha (RARα) increased the efficiency of atrial differentiation to 72% compared with 45% after modulating the retinoic acid (RA) pathway with all-trans RA (atRA). In contrast, the induction of RARβ signaling only had a minor impact on the efficiency of atrial differentiation (from about 45% to 50%). Similarly, the total yield of AM per EB of 5000 hPSCs was increased from 10,350 (2.07 per hPSC) to 16,120 (3.22 per hPSC) while selectively modulating RARα signaling. For further purification of the AMs, we describe a metabolic selection procedure that enhanced the AM percentage to more than 90% without compromising the AM yield (15,542 per EB, equal to 3.11 per hPSC) or functionality of the AMs as evaluated by RNAseq, immunostaining, and optical action potential measurement. Cardiomyocytes with distinct atrial and ventricular properties can be applied for selective pharmacology, such as the development of novel atrial-specific anti-arrhythmic agents, and disease modeling, including atrial fibrillation, which is the most common heart rhythm disorder. Moreover, fully characterized and defined cardiac subtype populations are of the utmost importance for potential cell-based therapeutic approaches.
- atrial cardiomyocyte differentiation
- hPSC-derived AM
- retinoic acid signaling