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Dissecting the transcriptome landscape of the human fetal neural retina and retinal pigment epithelium by single-cell RNA-seq analysis

The developmental pathway of the neural retina (NR) and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) has been revealed by extensive research in mice. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of the human NR and RPE, as well as the interactions between these two tissues, have not been well defined. Here, we analyzed 2,421 individual cells from human fetal NR and RPE using single-cell RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) technique and revealed the tightly regulated spatiotemporal gene expression network of human retinal cells. We identified major cell classes of human fetal retina and potential crucial transcription factors for each cell class. We dissected the dynamic expression patterns of visual cycle– and ligand-receptor interaction–related genes in the RPE and NR. Moreover, we provided a map of disease-related genes for human fetal retinal cells and highlighted the importance of retinal progenitor cells as potential targets of inherited retinal diseases. Our findings captured the key in vivo features of the development of the human NR and RPE and offered insightful clues for further functional studies.