Transplanted neurons derived from stem cells have been proposed to improve function in animal models of human disease by various mechanisms such as neuronal replacement. However, whether the grafted neurons receive functional synaptic inputs from the recipient's brain and integrate into host neural circuitry is unknown. Here we studied the synaptic inputs from the host brain to grafted cortical neurons derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells after transplantation into stroke-injured rat cerebral cortex. Using the rabies virus-based trans-synaptic tracing method and immunoelectron microscopy, we demonstrate that the grafted neurons receive direct synaptic inputs from neurons in different host brain areas located in a pattern similar to that of neurons projecting to the corresponding endogenous cortical neurons in the intact brain. Electrophysiological in vivo recordings from the cortical implants show that physiological sensory stimuli, i.e. cutaneous stimulation of nose and paw, can activate or inhibit spontaneous activity in grafted neurons, indicating that at least some of the afferent inputs are functional. In agreement, we find using patch-clamp recordings that a portion of grafted neurons respond to photostimulation of virally transfected, channelrhodopsin-2-expressing thalamo-cortical axons in acute brain slices. The present study demonstrates, for the first time, that the host brain regulates the activity of grafted neurons, providing strong evidence that transplanted human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cortical neurons can become incorporated into injured cortical circuitry. Our findings support the idea that these neurons could contribute to functional recovery in stroke and other conditions causing neuronal loss in cerebral cortex.
Keywords: functional integration; stem cells; stroke; synapses; transplantation.
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