The pathology of neurological disorders is associated with the loss of neuronal and glial cells that results in functional impairments. Human neural stem cells (hNSCs), due to their self-renewing and multipotent characteristics, possess enormous tissue-specific regenerative potential. However, the efficacy of clinical applications is restricted due to the lack of standardized in vitro cell production methods with the capability of generating hNSC populations with well-defined cellular compositions. At any point, a population of hNSCs may include undifferentiated stem cells, intermediate and terminally differentiated progenies, and dead cells. Due to the plasticity of hNSCs, environmental cues play crucial roles in determining the cellular composition of hNSC cultures over time. Here, we investigated the independent and synergistic effect of three important environmental factors (i.e., culture dimensionality, oxygen concentration, and growth factors) on the survival, renewal potential, and differentiation of hNSCs. Our experimental design included two dimensional (2D) versus three dimensional (3D) cultures and normoxic (21% O2 ) versus hypoxic (3% O2 ) conditions in the presence and absence of epidermal growth factor (EGF) and fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2). Additionally, we discuss the feasibility of mathematical models that predict hNSC growth and differentiation under these culture conditions by adopting a negative feedback regulatory term. Our results indicate that the synergistic effect of culture dimensionality and hypoxic oxygen concentration in the presence of growth factors enhances the proliferation of viable, undifferentiated hNSCs. Moreover, the same synergistic effect in the absence of growth factors promotes the differentiation of hNSCs. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2017;114: 1096-1106. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Keywords: 3D culture; human neural stem cells; proliferation; self-renewal; viability.
© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.