Large-Scale Single-Cell RNA-Seq Reveals Molecular Signatures of Heterogeneous Populations of Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Endothelial Cells [Original Research]

Rationale: Human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived endothelial cells (iPSC-ECs) have risen as a useful tool in cardiovascular research, offering a wide gamut of translational and clinical applications. However, inefficiency of the currently available iPSC-EC differentiation protocol and underlying heterogeneity of derived iPSC-ECs remain as major limitations of iPSC-EC technology. Objective: Here we performed droplet-based single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) of the human iPSCs following iPSC-EC differentiation. Droplet-based scRNA-seq enables analysis of thousands of cells in parallel, allowing comprehensive analysis of transcriptional heterogeneity. Methods and Results: Bona fide iPSC-EC cluster was identified by scRNA-seq, which expressed high levels of endothelial-specific genes. iPSC-ECs, sorted by CD144 antibody-conjugated magnetic sorting, exhibited standard endothelial morphology and function including tube formation, response to inflammatory signals, and production of nitric oxide. Non-endothelial cell populations resulting from the differentiation protocol were identified, which included immature and atrial-like cardiomyocytes, hepatic-like cells, and vascular smooth muscle cells. Furthermore, scRNA-seq analysis of purified iPSC-ECs revealed transcriptional heterogeneity with four major subpopulations, marked by robust enrichment of CLDN5, APLNR, GJA5, and ESM1 genes respectively. Conclusions: Massively parallel, droplet-based scRNA-seq allowed meticulous analysis of thousands of human iPSCs subjected to iPSC-EC differentiation. Results showed inefficiency of the differentiation technique, which can be improved with further studies based on identification of molecular signatures that inhibit expansion of non-endothelial cell types. Subtypes of bona fide human iPSC-ECs were also identified, allowing us to sort for iPSC-ECs with specific biological function and identity.