Human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have the potential to differentiate into all cell lineages, including hepatocytes, in vitro. Induced hepatocytes have a wide range of potential application in biomedical research, drug discovery, and the treatment of liver disease. However, the existing protocols for hepatic differentiation of PSCs are not very efficient. In this study, we developed an efficient method to induce hepatoblasts, which are progenitors of hepatocytes, from human ESCs and iPSCs by overexpression of the HEX gene, which is a homeotic gene and also essential for hepatic differentiation, using a HEX-expressing adenovirus (Ad) vector under serum/feeder cell-free chemically defined conditions. Ad-HEX-transduced cells expressed α-fetoprotein (AFP) at day 9 and then expressed albumin (ALB) at day 12. Furthermore, the Ad-HEX-transduced cells derived from human iPSCs also produced several cytochrome P450 (CYP) isozymes, and these P450 isozymes were capable of converting the substrates to metabolites and responding to the chemical stimulation. Our differentiation protocol using Ad vector-mediated transient HEX transduction under chemically defined conditions efficiently generates hepatoblasts from human ESCs and iPSCs. Thus, our methods would be useful for not only drug screening but also therapeutic applications.
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