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Stem Cells. 2010 May;28(5):955-64. doi: 10.1002/stem.408.

Inhibition of notch signaling in human embryonic stem cell-derived neural stem cells delays G1/S phase transition and accelerates neuronal differentiation in vitro and in vivo.

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Institute of Reconstructive Neurobiology, LIFE & BRAIN Center, University of Bonn and Hertie Foundation, Bonn, Germany.


The controlled in vitro differentiation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and other pluripotent stem cells provides interesting prospects for generating large numbers of human neurons for a variety of biomedical applications. A major bottleneck associated with this approach is the long time required for hESC-derived neural cells to give rise to mature neuronal progeny. In the developing vertebrate nervous system, Notch signaling represents a key regulator of neural stem cell (NSC) maintenance. Here, we set out to explore whether this signaling pathway can be exploited to modulate the differentiation of hESC-derived NSCs (hESNSCs). We assessed the expression of Notch pathway components in hESNSCs and demonstrate that Notch signaling is active under self-renewing culture conditions. Inhibition of Notch activity by the gamma-secretase inhibitor N-[N-(3,5-difluorophenacetyl)-L-alanyl]-S-phenylglycine t-butyl ester (DAPT) in hESNSCs affects the expression of human homologues of known targets of Notch and of several cell cycle regulators. Furthermore, DAPT-mediated Notch inhibition delays G1/S-phase transition and commits hESNSCs to neurogenesis. Combined with growth factor withdrawal, inhibition of Notch signaling results in a marked acceleration of differentiation, thereby shortening the time required for the generation of electrophysiologically active hESNSC-derived neurons. This effect can be exploited for neural cell transplantation, where transient Notch inhibition before grafting suffices to promote the onset of neuronal differentiation of hESNSCs in the host tissue. Thus, interference with Notch signaling provides a tool for controlling human NSC differentiation both in vitro and in vivo.

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