Human stem cell models of neurodegeneration: a novel approach to study mechanisms of disease development
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- Hargus, G., Ehrlich, M., Hallmann, AL. et al. Acta Neuropathol (2014) 127: 151. doi:10.1007/s00401-013-1222-6
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The number of patients with neurodegenerative diseases is increasing significantly worldwide. Thus, intense research is being pursued to uncover mechanisms of disease development in an effort to identify molecular targets for therapeutic intervention. Analysis of postmortem tissue from patients has yielded important histological and biochemical markers of disease progression. However, this approach is inherently limited because it is not possible to study patient neurons prior to degeneration. As such, transgenic and knockout models of neurodegenerative diseases are commonly employed. While these animal models have yielded important insights into some molecular mechanisms of disease development, they do not provide the opportunity to study mechanisms of neurodegeneration in human neurons at risk and thus, it is often difficult or even impossible to replicate human pathogenesis with this approach. The generation of patient-specific induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells offers a unique opportunity to overcome these obstacles. By expanding and differentiating iPS cells, it is possible to generate large numbers of functional neurons in vitro, which can then be used to study the disease of the donating patient. Here, we provide an overview of human stem cell models of neurodegeneration using iPS cells from patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, we describe how further refinements of reprogramming technology resulted in the generation of patient-specific induced neurons, which have also been used to model neurodegenerative changes in vitro.