Turning human stem cells into brain cells sheds light on neural development

May 2, 2013, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Medical researchers have manipulated human stem cells into producing types of brain cells known to play important roles in neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and autism. The new model cell system allows neuroscientists to investigate normal brain development, as well as to identify specific disruptions in biological signals that may contribute to neuropsychiatric diseases.

Scientists from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research led a study team that described their research in the journal Cell Stem Cell, published online today.

The research harnesses human (hESCs), which differentiate into a broad range of different cell types. In the current study, the scientists directed the stem cells into becoming cortical interneurons—a class of that, by releasing the , controls electrical firing in .

"Interneurons act like an orchestra conductor, directing other excitatory brain cells to fire in synchrony," said study co-leader Stewart A. Anderson, M.D., a research psychiatrist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "However, when interneurons malfunction, the synchrony is disrupted, and seizures or mental disorders can result."

Anderson and study co-leader Lorenz Studer, M.D., of the Center for at Sloan-Kettering, derived interneurons in a laboratory model that simulates how neurons normally develop in the human forebrain.

"Unlike, say, , in which researchers can biopsy a section of a patient's liver, neuroscientists cannot biopsy a living patient's brain tissue," said Anderson. Hence it is important to produce a cell culture model of brain tissue for studying neurological diseases. Significantly, the human-derived cells in the current study also "wire up" in circuits with other types of brain cells taken from mice, when cultured together. Those interactions, Anderson added, allowed the study team to observe cell-to-cell signaling that occurs during forebrain development.

In ongoing studies, Anderson explained, he and colleagues are using their cell model to better define molecular events that occur during brain development. By selectively manipulating genes in the interneurons, the researchers seek to better understand how gene abnormalities may disrupt brain circuitry and give rise to particular diseases. Ultimately, those studies could help inform drug development by identifying molecules that could offer therapeutic targets for more effective treatments of .

In addition, Anderson's laboratory is studying interneurons derived from stem cells made from skin samples of patients with chromosome 22q.11.2 deletion syndrome, a genetic disease which has long been studied at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. In this multisystem disorder, about one third of patients have autistic spectrum disorders, and a partially overlapping third of patients develop schizophrenia. Investigating the roles of genes and signaling pathways in their model cells may reveal specific genes that are crucial in those patients with this syndrome who have neurodevelopmental problems.

Explore further: Protein identified that can disrupt embryonic brain development and neuron migration

More information: Maroof et al, "Directed Differentiation and Functional Maturation of Cortical Interneurons from Human Embryonic Stem Cells," Cell Stem Cell, published online May 2, 2013. dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.stem.2013.04.008

Related Stories

Protein identified that can disrupt embryonic brain development and neuron migration

January 14, 2013
Interneurons – nerve cells that function as 'dimmers' – play an important role in the brain. Their formation and migration to the cerebral cortex during the embryonic stage of development is crucial to normal brain functioning. ...

Researchers trace early journey of modulating cells in brain

July 28, 2011
Key cells in the brain region known as the hippocampus are formed in the base of the brain late in fetal life and undertake a long journey before reaching their final destination in the center of the brain shortly after birth, ...

Recommended for you

Researchers illustrate how muscle growth inhibitor is activated, could aid in treating ALS

January 19, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are part of an international team that has identified how the inactive or latent form of GDF8, a signaling protein also known as myostatin responsible for ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.