Human neural progenitor cells derived from embryonic stem cells in feeder-free cultures

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Derivation of human neural progenitors (hNP) from human embryonic stem (hES) cells in culture has been reported with the use of feeder cells or conditioned media. This introduces undefined components into the system, limiting the ability to precisely investigate the requirement for factors that control the process. Also, the use of feeder cells of non-human origin introduces the potential for zoonotic transmission, limiting its clinical usefulness. Here we report a feeder-free system to produce hNP from hES cells and test the effects of various media components involved in the process.Five protocols using defined media components were compared for efficiency of hNP generation. Based on this analysis, we discuss the role of basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF2), N2 supplement, non-essential amino acids (NEAA), and knock-out serum replacement (KSR) on the process of hNP generation. All protocols led to down-regulation of Oct4/POU5F1 expression (from 90.5% to <3%), and up-regulation of neural progenitor markers to varying degrees. Media with N2 but not KSR and NEAA produced cultures with significantly higher (p<0.05) expression of the neural progenitor marker Musashi 1 (MSI1). Approximately 89% of these cells were Nestin (NES)+ after 3 weeks, but they did not proliferate. In contrast, differentiation media supplemented with KSR and NEAA produced fewer NES+ (75%) cells, but these cells were proliferative, and by five passages the culture consisted of >97% NES+ cells. This suggests that KSR and NEAA supplements did not enhance early differentiation but did promote proliferating of hNP cell cultures. This resulted in an efficient, robust, repeatable differentiation system suitable for generating large populations of hNP cells. This will facilitate further study of molecular and biochemical mechanisms in early human neural differentiation and potentially produce uniform neuronal cells for therapeutic uses without concern of zoonotic transmission from feeder layers.

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