Embryonic stem cell neurogenesis and neural specification



The prospect of using embryonic stem cell (ESC)-derived neural progenitors and neurons to treat neurological disorders has led to great interest in defining the conditions that guide the differentiation of ESCs, and more recently induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), into neural stem cells (NSCs) and a variety of neuronal and glial subtypes. Over the past decade, researchers have looked to the embryo to guide these studies, applying what we know about the signaling events that direct neural specification during development. This has led to the design of a number of protocols that successfully promote ESC neurogenesis, terminating with the production of neurons and glia with diverse regional addresses and functional properties. These protocols demonstrate that ESCs undergo neural specification in two, three, and four dimensions, mimicking the cell–cell interactions, patterning, and timing that characterizes the in vivo process. We therefore propose that these in vitro systems can be used to examine the molecular regulation of neural specification. J. Cell. Biochem. 111: 535–542, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.