Background: Neural stem cells (NSCs) are powerful research tools for the design and discovery of new approaches to neurodegenerative disease. Overexpression of the myc family transcription factors in human primary cells from developing cortex and mesencephalon has produced two stable multipotential NSC lines (ReNcell VM and CX) that can be continuously expanded in monolayer culture.
Results: In the undifferentiated state, both ReNcell VM and CX are nestin positive and have resting membrane potentials of around -60 mV but do not display any voltage-activated conductances. As initially hypothesized, using standard methods (stdD) for differentiation, both cell lines can form neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes according to immunohistological characteristics. However it became clear that this was not true for electrophysiological features which designate neurons, such as the firing of action potentials. We have thus developed a new differentiation protocol, designated 'pre-aggregation differentiation' (preD) which appears to favor development of electrophysiologically functional neurons and to lead to an increase in dopaminergic neurons in the ReNcell VM line. In contrast, the protocol used had little effect on the differentiation of ReNcell CX in which dopaminergic differentiation was not observed. Moreover, after a week of differentiation with the preD protocol, 100% of ReNcell VM featured TTX-sensitive Na+-channels and fired action potentials, compared to 25% after stdD. Currents via other voltage-gated channels did not appear to depend on the differentiation protocol. ReNcell CX did not display the same electrophysiological properties as the VM line, generating voltage-dependant K+ currents but no Na+ currents or action potentials under either stdD or preD differentiation.
Conclusion: These data demonstrate that overexpression of myc in NSCs can be used to generate electrophysiologically active neurons in culture. Development of a functional neuronal phenotype may be dependent on parameters of isolation and differentiation of the cell lines, indicating that not all human NSCs are functionally equivalent.