BackgroundThe esophagus is known to be derived from the foregut. However, the mechanisms regulating this process remain unclear. In particular, the details of the human esophagus itself have been poorly researched. In this decade, studies using human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) have proven powerful tools for clarifying the developmental biology of various human organs. Several studies using hiPSCs have demonstrated that retinoic acid (RA) signaling promotes the differentiation of foregut into tissues such as lung and pancreas. However, the effect of RA signaling on the differentiation of foregut into esophagus remains unclear.MethodsWe established a novel stepwise protocol with transwell culture and an air–liquid interface system for esophageal epithelial cell (EEC) differentiation from hiPSCs. We then evaluated the effect of all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), which is a retinoic acid receptor (RAR)α, RARβ and RARγ agonist, on the differentiation from the hiPSC-derived foregut. Finally, to identify which RAR subtype was involved in the differentiation, we used synthetic agonists and antagonists of RARα and RARγ, which are known to be expressed in esophagus.ResultsWe successfully generated stratified layers of cells expressing EEC marker genes that were positive for lugol staining. The enhancing effect of ATRA on EEC differentiation was clearly demonstrated with quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, immunohistology, lugol-staining and RNA sequencing analyses. RARγ agonist and antagonist enhanced and suppressed EEC differentiation, respectively. RARα agonist had no effect on the differentiation.ConclusionWe revealed that RARγ activation promotes the differentiation of hiPSCs-derived foregut into EECs.