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Comparative analysis and refinement of human PSC-derived kidney organoid differentiation with single-cell transcriptomics

Kidney organoids derived from human pluripotent stem cells have great utility for investigating organogenesis and disease mechanisms and, potentially, as a replacement tissue source, but how closely organoids derived from current protocols replicate adult human kidney is undefined. We compared two directed differentiation protocols by single-cell transcriptomics of 83,130 cells from 65 organoids with single-cell transcriptomes of fetal and adult kidney cells. Both protocols generate a diverse range of kidney cells with differing ratios, but organoid-derived cell types are immature, and 10%-20% of cells are non-renal. Reconstructing lineage relationships by pseudotemporal ordering identified ligands, receptors, and transcription factor networks associated with fate decisions. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its cognate receptor NTRK2 were expressed in the neuronal lineage during organoid differentiation. Inhibiting this pathway improved organoid formation by reducing neurons by 90% without affecting kidney differentiation, highlighting the power of single-cell technologies to characterize and improve organoid differentiation.