Background: Pluripotent human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) proffer cures for a wide range of neurological disorders by supplying the diversity of human neuronal cell types in the developing CNS for repair. However, realizing the therapeutic potential of hESC derivatives has been hindered by generating neuronal cells from pluripotent cells through uncontrollable and inefficient multi-lineage differentiation. Previously, we used a defined platform to identify retinoic acid as sufficient to induce the specification of neuroectoderm direct from the pluripotent state of hESCs and trigger uniform neuronal lineage-specific progression to human neuronal progenitors (hESC-I hNuPs) and neurons (hESC-I hNus) in the developing CNS with high efficiency.
Methods: Having achieved uniformly conversion of pluripotent hESCs to a neuronal lineage, in this study, the expression and intracellular distribution patterns of a set of chromatin modifiers in hESC-I hNuPs were examined and compared to the two prototypical neuroepithelial-like human neural stem cells (hNSCs) either derived from hESCs or isolated directly from the human fetal neuroectoderm in vivo.
Results: These hESC-I hNuPs expressed high levels of active chromatin modifiers, including acetylated histone H3 and H4, HDAC1, Brg-1, and hSNF2H, retaining an embryonic acetylated globally active chromatin state. Consistent with this observation, several repressive chromatin remodeling factors regulating histone H3K9 methylation, including SIRT1, SUV39H1, and Brm, were inactive in hESC-I hNuPs. These Nurr1-positive hESC-I hNuPs, which did not express the canonical hNSC markers, yielded neurons efficiently and exclusively, as they did not differentiate into glial cells. Following engraftment in the brain, hESC-I hNuPs yielded well-dispersed and well-integrated human neurons at a high prevalence.
Conclusions: These observations suggest that, unlike the prototypical neuroepithelial-like nestin-positive hNSCs, these in vitro neuroectoderm-derived Nurr1-positive hESC-I hNuPs are a more neuronal lineage-specific and plastic human stem cell derivative, providing an engraftable human embryonic neuronal progenitor in high purity and large supply with adequate neurogenic potential for scale-up CNS regeneration as stem cell therapy to be translated to patients in clinical trials.
Keywords: human embryonic stem cells; human; human pluripotent stem cells; human neural stem cells; human neuronal progenitors; human stem cells; neurons; multipotency; pluripotency; epigenome; acetylation; methylation; chromatin; plasticity; differentiation; lineage-specific; derivative; development; cell therapy; CNS repair; regeneration