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Stem Cells Dev. 2012 Mar 1;21(4):539-53. doi: 10.1089/scd.2011.0079. Epub 2011 Jul 18.

Overexpression of basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors enhances neuronal differentiation of fetal human neural progenitor cells in various ways.

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Centre de Recherche de l'Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Epinière, Université Pierre et Marie Curie-Paris 6, UMR-S975, Paris, France.


In a perspective of regenerative medicine, multipotent human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs) offer a therapeutic advantage over pluripotent stem cells in that they are already invariantly "neurally committed" and lack tumorigenicity. However, some of their intrinsic properties, such as slow differentiation and uncontrolled multipotency, remain among the obstacles to their routine use for transplantation. Although rodent NPCs have been genetically modified in vitro to overcome some of these limitations, the translation of this strategy to human cells remains in its early stages. In the present study, we compare the actions of 4 basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors on the proliferation, specification, and terminal differentiation of hNPCs isolated from the fetal dorsal telencephalon. Consistent with their proneural activity, Ngn1, Ngn2, Ngn3, and Mash1 prompted rapid commitment of the cells. The Ngns induced a decrease in proliferation, whereas Mash1 maintained committed progenitors in a proliferative state. As opposed to Ngn1 and Ngn3, which had no effect on glial differentiation, Ngn2 induced an increase in astrocytes in addition to neurons, whereas Mash1 led to both neuronal and oligodendroglial specification. GABAergic, cholinergic, and motor neuron differentiations were considerably increased by overexpression of Ngn2 and, to a lesser extent, of Ngn3 and Mash1. Thus, we provide evidence that hNPCs can be efficiently, rapidly, and safely expanded in vitro as well as rapidly differentiated toward mature neural (typically neuronal) lineages by the overexpression of select proneural genes.

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