Integrative network analysis of circular RNAs reveals regulatory mechanisms for hepatic specification of human iPSC-derived endoderm

Fang Bai, Jinliang Duan, Daopeng Yang, Xingqiang Lai, Xiaofeng Zhu, Xiaoshun He, Anbin Hu

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1 Scopus citations


Background: Human-induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived functional hepatic endoderm (HE) is supposed to be an alternative option for replacement therapy for end-stage liver disease. However, the high heterogeneity of HE cell populations is still challenging. Hepatic specification of definitive endoderm (DE) is an essential stage for HE induction in vitro. Recent studies have suggested that circular RNAs (circRNAs) determine the fate of stem cells by acting as competing endogenous RNAs (ceRNAs). To date, the relationships between endogenous circRNAs and hepatic specification remain elusive. Methods: The identities of DE and HE derived from hiPSCs were determined by qPCR, cell immunofluorescence, and ELISA. Differentially expressed circRNAs (DEcircRNAs) were analysed using the Arraystar Human circRNA Array. qPCR was performed to validate the candidate DEcircRNAs. Intersecting differentially expressed genes (DEGs) of the GSE128060 and GSE66282 data sets and the DEcircRNA-predicted mRNAs were imported into Cytoscape for ceRNA networks. Gene Ontology (GO) and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) were involved in the enrichment analysis. Hepatic markers and Wnt/β-catenin were detected in hsa_circ_004658-overexpressing cells by western blotting. Dual-luciferase reporter assays were used to evaluate the direct binding among hsa_circ_004658, miRNA-1200 and CDX2. DE cells were transfected with miR-1200 mimics, adenovirus containing CDX2, and Wnt/β-catenin was detected by western blotting. Results: hiPSC-derived DE and HE were obtained at 4 and 9 days after differentiation, as determined by hepatic markers. During hepatic specification, 626 upregulated and 208 downregulated DEcircRNAs were identified. Nine candidate DEcircRNAs were validated by qPCR. In the ceRNA networks, 111 circRNA–miRNA–mRNA pairs were involved, including 90 pairs associated with hsa_circ_004658. In addition, 53 DEGs were identified among the intersecting mRNAs of the GSE128060 and GSE66282 data sets and the hsa_circ_004658-targeted mRNAs. KEGG and GO analyses showed that the DEGs associated with hsa_circ_004658 were mainly enriched in the WNT signalling pathway. Furthermore, hsa_circ_004658 was preliminarily verified to promote hepatic specification, as determined by hepatic markers (AFP, ALB, HNF4A, and CK19) (p < 0.05). This promotive effect may be related to the inhibition of the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway (detected by β-catenin, p-β-catenin, and TCF4) when hsa_circ_004658 was overexpressed (p < 0.05). Dual-luciferase reporter assays showed that there were binding sites for miR-1200 in the hsa_circ_004658 sequence, and confirmed the candidate DEG (CDX2) as a miR-1200 target. The level of miR-1200 decreased and the level of CDX2 protein expression increased when hsa_circ_004658 was overexpressed (p < 0.05). In addition, the results showed that CDX2 may suppress the Wnt/β-catenin signalling during hepatic specification (p < 0.05). Conclusions: This study analysed the profiles of circRNAs during hepatic specification. We identified the hsa_circ_004658/miR-1200/CDX2 axis and preliminarily verified its effect on the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway during hepatic specification. These results provide novel insight into the molecular mechanisms involved in hepatic specification and could improve liver development in the future. Graphical Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number468
JournalStem Cell Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Circular RNA
  • Hepatic specification
  • Human-induced pluripotent stem cell
  • ceRNA network
  • hsa_circ_004658

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Cell Biology


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