Generating trunk neural crest from human pluripotent stem cells

Sci Rep. 2016 Jan 27;6:19727. doi: 10.1038/srep19727.


Neural crest cells (NCC) are stem cells that generate different lineages, including neuroendocrine, melanocytic, cartilage, and bone. The differentiation potential of NCC varies according to the level from which cells emerge along the neural tube. For example, only anterior "cranial" NCC form craniofacial bone, whereas solely posterior "trunk" NCC contribute to sympathoadrenal cells. Importantly, the isolation of human fetal NCC carries ethical and scientific challenges, as NCC induction typically occur before pregnancy is detectable. As a result, current knowledge of NCC biology derives primarily from non-human organisms. Important differences between human and non-human NCC, such as expression of HNK1 in human but not mouse NCC, suggest a need to study human NCC directly. Here, we demonstrate that current protocols to differentiate human pluripotent stem cells (PSC) to NCC are biased toward cranial NCC. Addition of retinoic acid drove trunk-related markers and HOX genes characteristic of a posterior identity. Subsequent treatment with bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) enhanced differentiation to sympathoadrenal cells. Our approach provides methodology for detailed studies of human NCC, and clarifies roles for retinoids and BMPs in the differentiation of human PSC to trunk NCC and to sympathoadrenal lineages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation* / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neural Crest / cytology*
  • Neural Crest / embryology*
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tretinoin / metabolism
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology


  • Biomarkers
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Tretinoin