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J Neurochem. 2008 Jan;104(2):316-24. Epub 2007 Oct 18.

Neural precursors derived from human embryonic stem cells maintain long-term proliferation without losing the potential to differentiate into all three neural lineages, including dopaminergic neurons.

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Udall Parkinson's Disease Research Center of Excellence, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, Massachusetts 02478, USA.


Human embryonic stem (hES) cells have the ability to renew themselves and differentiate into multiple cell types upon exposure to appropriate signals. In particular, the ability of hES cells to differentiate into defined neural lineages, such as neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes, is fundamental to developing cell-based therapies for neurodegenerative disorders and studying developmental mechanisms. However, the utilization of hES cells for basic and applied research is hampered by the lack of well-defined methods to maintain their self-renewal and direct their differentiation. Recently we reported that neural precursor (NP) cells derived from mouse ES cells maintained their potential to differentiate into dopaminergic (DA) neurons after significant expansion in vitro. We hypothesized that NP cells derived from hES cells (hES-NP) could also undergo the same in vitro expansion and differentiation. To test this hypothesis, we passaged hES-NP cells and analyzed their proliferative and developmental properties. We found that hES-NP cells can proliferate approximately 380 000-fold after in vitro expansion for 12 weeks and maintain their potential to generate Tuj1+ neurons, GFAP+ astrocytes, and O4+ oligodendrocytes as well as tyrosine hydroxylase-positive (TH+) DA neurons. Furthermore, TH+ neurons originating from hES-NP cells expressed other midbrain DA markers, including Nurr1, Pitx3, Engrail-1, and aromatic l-amino acid decarboxylase, and released significant amounts of DA. In addition, hES-NP cells maintained their developmental potential through long-term storage (over 2 years) in liquid nitrogen and multiple freeze-thaw cycles. These results demonstrate that hES-NP cells have the ability to provide an expandable and unlimited human cell source that can develop into specific neuronal and glial subtypes.

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