, Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 461-470,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 21 Jul 2011

Human embryonic stem cell-derived neurons establish region-specific, long-range projections in the adult brain


While the availability of pluripotent stem cells has opened new prospects for generating neural donor cells for nervous system repair, their capability to integrate with adult brain tissue in a structurally relevant way is still largely unresolved. We addressed the potential of human embryonic stem cell-derived long-term self-renewing neuroepithelial stem cells (lt-NES cells) to establish axonal projections after transplantation into the adult rodent brain. Transgenic and species-specific markers were used to trace the innervation pattern established by transplants in the hippocampus and motor cortex. In vitro, lt-NES cells formed a complex axonal network within several weeks after the initiation of differentiation and expressed a composition of surface receptors known to be instrumental in axonal growth and pathfinding. In vivo, these donor cells adopted projection patterns closely mimicking endogenous projections in two different regions of the adult rodent brain. Hippocampal grafts placed in the dentate gyrus projected to both the ipsilateral and contralateral pyramidal cell layers, while axons of donor neurons placed in the motor cortex extended via the external and internal capsule into the cervical spinal cord and via the corpus callosum into the contralateral cortex. Interestingly, acquisition of these region-specific projection profiles was not correlated with the adoption of a regional phenotype. Upon reaching their destination, human axons established ultrastructural correlates of synaptic connections with host neurons. Together, these data indicate that neurons derived from human pluripotent stem cells are endowed with a remarkable potential to establish orthotopic long-range projections in the adult mammalian brain.