Electrical maturation of neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells

F1000Res. 2014 Aug 19;3:196. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.4943.2. eCollection 2014.


In-vitro neuronal differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells has become a widely used tool in disease modeling and prospective regenerative medicine. Most studies evaluate neurons molecularly and only a handful of them use electrophysiological tools to directly indicate that these are genuine neurons. Therefore, the specific timing of development of intrinsic electrophysiological properties and synaptic capabilities remains poorly understood. Here we describe a systematic analysis of developing neurons derived in-vitro from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). We show that hESCs differentiated in-vitro into early embryonic neurons, displaying basically mature morphological and electrical features as early as day 37. This early onset of action potential discharges suggests that first stages of neurogenesis in humans are already associated with electrical maturation. Spike frequency, amplitude, duration, threshold and after hyperpolarization were found to be the most predictive parameters for electrical maturity. Furthermore, we were able to detect spontaneous synaptic activity already at these early time-points, demonstrating that neuronal connectivity can develop concomitantly with the gradual process of electrical maturation. These results highlight the functional properties of hESCs in the process of their development into neurons. Moreover, our results provide practical tools for the direct measurement of functional maturity, which can be reproduced and implemented for stem cell research of neurogenesis in general, and neurodevelopmental disorders in particular.

Grant support

M.T. was supported by the TEVA National Network of Excellency scholarship in neuroscience.