Stem cells and development

Physiological properties of neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells using a dibutyryl cyclic AMP-based protocol.

PMID 21226567


Neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells hold promise for the therapy of neurological diseases. Quality inspection of human embryonic stem cell-derived neurons has often been based on immunolabeling for neuronal markers. Here we put emphasis on their physiological properties. Electrophysiological measurements were carried out systematically at different stages of neuronal in vitro development, including the very early stage, neuroepithelial rosettes. Developing human neurons are able to generate action potentials (APs) as early as 10 days after the start of differentiation. Tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-positive (putative dopaminergic, DA) neurons tend to aggregate into clumps, and their overall yield per coverslip is relatively low (8.3%) because of areas void of DA neurons. On the same in vitro day, neighboring neurons can be in very different stages of differentiation, including repetitive AP firing, single full-size AP, and abortive AP. Similarly, the basic electrophysiological parameters (resting membrane potential, input resistance, peak sodium, and peak potassium currents) are scattered in a wide range. Visual appearance of differentiating neurons, and number of primary and secondary dendrites cannot be used to predict the peak sodium current or AP firing properties of cultured neurons. Approximately 13% of neurons showed evidence of hyperpolarization-induced current (I(h)), a characteristic of DA neurons; however, no neurons with repetitive APs showed I(h). The electrophysiological measurements thus indicate that a standard DA differentiation (dibutyryl cyclic AMP-based) protocol, applied for 2-5 weeks, produces a heterogeneous ensemble of mostly immature neurons. The overall quality of human neurons under present conditions (survival factors were not used) begins to deteriorate after 12 days of differentiation.