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

May 2, 2013

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

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Engineered liver tissue expands after transplant

July 19, 2017
Many diseases, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, can lead to liver failure. More than 17,000 Americans suffering from these diseases are now waiting for liver transplants, but significantly fewer livers are available.

Lunatic Fringe gene plays key role in the renewable brain

July 19, 2017
The discovery that the brain can generate new cells - about 700 new neurons each day - has triggered investigations to uncover how this process is regulated. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Jan and Dan Duncan ...

New animal models for hepatitis C could pave the way for a vaccine

July 19, 2017
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of hepatitis C—a disease that affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, causing cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated—it might be worth ...

Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation via cannabinoids

July 18, 2017
Chemical compounds called cannabinoids are found in marijuana and also are produced naturally in the body from omega-3 fatty acids. A well-known cannabinoid in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, is responsible for some of its ...

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.