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Front Cell Neurosci. 2014 Dec 2;8:398. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2014.00398. eCollection 2014.

Differentiation of pluripotent stem cells into striatal projection neurons: a pure MSN fate may not be sufficient.

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The Brain Repair Group, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University Cardiff, UK.
The Brain Repair Group, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University Cardiff, UK ; Department of Psychological Medicine and Neurology, Cardiff University Cardiff, UK.


Huntington's disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant inherited disorder leading to the loss inter alia of DARPP-32 positive medium spiny projection neurons ("MSNs") in the striatum. There is no known cure for HD but the relative specificity of cell loss early in the disease has made cell replacement by neural transplantation an attractive therapeutic possibility. Transplantation of human fetal striatal precursor cells has shown "proof-of-principle" in clinical trials; however, the practical and ethical difficulties associated with sourcing fetal tissues have stimulated the need to identify alternative source(s) of donor cells that are more readily available and more suitable for standardization. We now have available the first generation of protocols to generate DARPP-32 positive MSN-like neurons from pluripotent stem cells and these have been successfully grafted into animal models of HD. However, whether these grafts can provide stable functional recovery to the level that can regularly be achieved with primary fetal striatal grafts remains to be demonstrated. Of particular concern, primary fetal striatal grafts are not homogenous; they contain not only the MSN subpopulation of striatal projection neurons but also include all the different cell types that make up the mature striatum, such as the multiple populations of striatal interneurons and striatal glia, and which certainly contribute to normal striatal function. By contrast, present protocols for pluripotent stem cell differentiation are almost entirely targeted at specifying just neurons of an MSN lineage. So far, evidence for the functionality and integration of stem-cell derived grafts is correspondingly limited. Indeed, consideration of the features of full striatal reconstruction that is achieved with primary fetal striatal grafts suggests that optimal success of the next generations of stem cell-derived replacement therapy in HD will require that graft protocols be developed to allow inclusion of multiple striatal cell types, such as interneurons and/or glia. Almost certainly, therefore, more sophisticated differentiation protocols will be necessary, over and above replacement of a specific population of MSNs. A rational solution to this technical challenge requires that we re-address the underlying question-what constitutes a functional striatal graft?


Huntington’s disease; embryonic stem cells; iPS cells; medium spiny neurons; neuronal transplantation; pluripotent stem cell grafts; striatal fate; striatal grafts

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