Placodes are embryonic structures originating from the rostral ectoderm that give rise to highly diverse organs and tissues, comprising the anterior pituitary gland, paired sense organs and cranial sensory ganglia. Their development, including the underlying gene regulatory networks and signalling pathways, have been for the most part characterised in animal models. In this Review, we describe how placode development can be recapitulated by the differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells towards placode progenitors and their derivatives, highlighting the value of this highly scalable platform as an optimal in vitro tool to study the development of human placodes, and identify human-specific mechanisms in their development, function and pathology.

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