Modeling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) aims to reenact embryogenesis, maturation and aging of spinal motor neurons (spMNs) in vitro. As the maturity of spMNs grown in vitro compared to spMNs in vivo remains largely unaddressed, it is unclear to what extent this in vitro system captures critical aspects of spMN development and molecular signatures associated with ALS. Here, we compared transcriptomes among iPSC-derived spMNs, fetal spinal tissues and adult spinal tissues. This approach produced a maturation scale revealing that iPSC-derived spMNs were more similar to fetal spinal tissue than to adult spMNs. Additionally, we resolved gene networks and pathways associated with spMN maturation and aging. These networks enriched for pathogenic familial ALS genetic variants and were disrupted in sporadic ALS spMNs. Altogether, our findings suggest that developing strategies to further mature and age iPSC-derived spMNs will provide more effective iPSC models of ALS pathology.
Summary Suboptimal axonal regeneration contributes to the consequences of nervous system trauma and neurodegenerative disease, but the intrinsic mechanisms that regulate axon growth remain unclear. We screened 50,400 small molecules for their ability to promote axon outgrowth on inhibitory substrata. The most potent hits were the statins, which stimulated growth of all mouse- and human-patient-derived neurons tested, both in vitro and in vivo, as did combined inhibition of the protein prenylation enzymes farnesyltransferase (PFT) and geranylgeranyl transferase I (PGGT-1). Compensatory sprouting of motor axons may delay clinical onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Accordingly, elevated levels of PGGT1B, which would be predicted to reduce sprouting, were found in motor neurons of early- versus late-onset \ALS\ patients postmortem. The mevalonate-prenylation pathway therefore constitutes an endogenous brake on axonal growth, and its inhibition provides a potential therapeutic approach to accelerate neuronal regeneration in humans.
Serotonin's function in the brain is unclear. One challenge in testing the numerous hypotheses about serotonin's function has been observing the activity of identified serotonergic neurons in animals engaged in behavioral tasks. We recorded the activity of dorsal raphe neurons while mice experienced a task in which rewards and punishments varied across blocks of trials. We 'tagged' serotonergic neurons with the light-sensitive protein channelrhodopsin-2 and identified them based on their responses to light. We found three main features of serotonergic neuron activity: (1) a large fraction of serotonergic neurons modulated their tonic firing rates over the course of minutes during reward versus punishment blocks; (2) most were phasically excited by punishments; and (3) a subset was phasically excited by reward-predicting cues. By contrast, dopaminergic neurons did not show firing rate changes across blocks of trials. These results suggest that serotonergic neurons signal information about reward and punishment on multiple timescales.
Our understanding of motor neuron biology in humans is derived mainly from investigation of human postmortem tissue and more indirectly from live animal models such as rodents. Thus generation of motor neurons from human embryonic stem cells and human induced pluripotent stem cells is an important new approach to model motor neuron function. To be useful models of human motor neuron function, cells generated in vitro should develop mature properties that are the hallmarks of motor neurons in vivo such as elaborated neuronal processes and mature electrophysiological characteristics. Here we have investigated changes in morphological and electrophysiological properties associated with maturation of neurons differentiated from human embryonic stem cells expressing GFP driven by a motor neuron specific reporter (Hb9::GFP) in culture. We observed maturation in cellular morphology seen as more complex neurite outgrowth and increased soma area over time. Electrophysiological changes included decreasing input resistance and increasing action potential firing frequency over 13 days in vitro. Furthermore, these human embryonic stem cell derived motor neurons acquired two physiological characteristics that are thought to underpin motor neuron integrated function in motor circuits; spike frequency adaptation and rebound action potential firing. These findings show that human embryonic stem cell derived motor neurons develop functional characteristics typical of spinal motor neurons in vivo and suggest that they are a relevant and useful platform for studying motor neuron development and function and for modeling motor neuron diseases.
The developmental potential of human pluripotent stem cells suggests that they can produce disease-relevant cell types for biomedical research. However, substantial variation has been reported among pluripotent cell lines, which could affect their utility and clinical safety. Such cell-line-specific differences must be better understood before one can confidently use embryonic stem (ES) or induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells in translational research. Toward this goal we have established genome-wide reference maps of DNA methylation and gene expression for 20 previously derived human ES lines and 12 human iPS cell lines, and we have measured the in vitro differentiation propensity of these cell lines. This resource enabled us to assess the epigenetic and transcriptional similarity of ES and iPS cells and to predict the differentiation efficiency of individual cell lines. The combination of assays yields a scorecard for quick and comprehensive characterization of pluripotent cell lines.