Specification of motoneurons from human embryonic stem cells

Nat Biotechnol. 2005 Feb;23(2):215-21. doi: 10.1038/nbt1063. Epub 2005 Jan 30.


An understanding of how mammalian stem cells produce specific neuronal subtypes remains elusive. Here we show that human embryonic stem cells generated early neuroectodermal cells, which organized into rosettes and expressed Pax6 but not Sox1, and then late neuroectodermal cells, which formed neural tube-like structures and expressed both Pax6 and Sox1. Only the early, but not the late, neuroectodermal cells were efficiently posteriorized by retinoic acid and, in the presence of sonic hedgehog, differentiated into spinal motoneurons. The in vitro-generated motoneurons expressed HB9, HoxC8, choline acetyltransferase and vesicular acetylcholine transporter, induced clustering of acetylcholine receptors in myotubes, and were electrophysiologically active. These findings indicate that retinoic acid action is required during neuroectoderm induction for motoneuron specification and suggest that stem cells have restricted capacity to generate region-specific projection neurons even at an early developmental stage.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Cell Line
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Eye Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology
  • High Mobility Group Proteins / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • PAX6 Transcription Factor
  • Paired Box Transcription Factors
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism*
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*
  • Tretinoin / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Eye Proteins
  • High Mobility Group Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • PAX6 Transcription Factor
  • PAX6 protein, human
  • Paired Box Transcription Factors
  • Repressor Proteins
  • SOX1 protein, human
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors
  • Tretinoin