In this study we demonstrated that neural rosettes derived from human ES cells can give rise either to neural crest precursors, following expansion in presence of bFGF and EGF, or to dopaminergic precursors after exposure to ventralizing factors Shh and FGF8. Both regionalised precursors are capable of extensive proliferation and differentiation towards the corresponding terminally differentiated cell types. In particular, peripheral neurons, cartilage, bone, smooth muscle cells and also pigmented cells were obtained from neural crest precursors while tyrosine hydroxylase and Nurr1 positive dopaminergic neurons were derived from FGF8 and Shh primed rosette cells. Gene expression and immunocytochemistry analyses confirmed the expression of dorsal and neural crest genes such as Sox10, Slug, p75, FoxD3, Pax7 in neural precursors from bFGF-EGF exposed rosettes. By contrast, priming of rosettes with FGF8 and Shh induced the expression of dopaminergic markers Engrailed1, Pax2, Pitx3, floor plate marker FoxA2 and radial glia markers Blbp and Glast, the latter in agreement with the origin of dopaminergic precursors from floor plate radial glia. Moreover, in vivo transplant of proliferating Shh/FGF8 primed precursors in parkinsonian rats demonstrated engraftment and terminal dopaminergic differentiation. In conclusion, we demonstrated the derivation of long-term self-renewing precursors of selected regional identity as potential cell reservoirs for cell therapy applications, such as CNS degenerative diseases, or for the development of toxicological tests.
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