Abstract: The segmented body plan of vertebrates is established during somitogenesis, a well-studied process in model organisms, but remains largely elusive in humans due to ethical and technical limitations. Despite recent advances with pluripotent stem cell (PSC)-based approaches, a system that robustly recapitulates human somitogenesis in both space and time remains missing. Here, we introduce a PSC-derived mesoderm-based 3D model of human segmentation and somitogenesis, which we termed Axioloids, that captures accurately the oscillatory dynamics of the segmentation clock as well as the morphological and molecular characteristics of segmentation and sequential somite formation in vitro. Axioloids show proper rostrocaudal patterning of forming segments and robust anterior-posterior FGF/WNT signaling gradients and Retinoic Acid (RA) signaling components. We identify an unexpected critical role of RA signaling in the stabilization of forming segments, indicating distinct, but also synergistic effects of RA and extracellular matrix (ECM) on the formation and epithelialization of somites. Importantly, comparative analysis demonstrates striking similarities of Axioloids to the human embryo, further validated by the presence of the HOX code in Axioloids. Lastly, we demonstrate the utility of our Axioloid system to study the pathogenesis of human congenital spine diseases, by using patient-like iPSC cells with mutations in HES7 and MESP2, which revealed disease-associated phenotypes including loss of epithelial somite formation and abnormal rostrocaudal patterning. These results suggest that Axioloids represent a promising novel platform to study axial development and disease in humans.

Journal Link: 10.1101/2022.06.03.494621 Journal Link: Publisher Website Journal Link: Download PDF Journal Link: Google Scholar