Co-cultures with stem cell-derived human sensory neurons reveal regulators of peripheral myelination

Brain. 2017 Apr 1;140(4):898-913. doi: 10.1093/brain/awx012.


See Saporta and Shy (doi:10.1093/awx048) for a scientific commentary on this article.Effective bidirectional signalling between axons and Schwann cells is essential for both the development and maintenance of peripheral nerve function. We have established conditions by which human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived sensory neurons can be cultured with rat Schwann cells, and have produced for the first time long-term and stable myelinating co-cultures with human neurons. These cultures contain the specialized domains formed by axonal interaction with myelinating Schwann cells, such as clustered voltage-gated sodium channels at the node of Ranvier and Shaker-type potassium channel (Kv1.2) at the juxtaparanode. Expression of type III neuregulin-1 (TIIINRG1) in induced pluripotent stem cell-derived sensory neurons strongly enhances myelination, while conversely pharmacological blockade of the NRG1-ErbB pathway prevents myelination, providing direct evidence for the ability of this pathway to promote the myelination of human sensory axons. The β-secretase, BACE1 is a protease needed to generate active NRG1 from the full-length form. Due to the fact that it also cleaves amyloid precursor protein, BACE1 is a therapeutic target in Alzheimer's disease, however, consistent with its role in NRG1 processing we find that BACE1 inhibition significantly impairs myelination in our co-culture system. In order to exploit co-cultures to address other clinically relevant problems, they were exposed to anti-disialosyl ganglioside antibodies, including those derived from a patient with a sensory predominant, inflammatory neuropathy with mixed axonal and demyelinating electrophysiology. The co-cultures reveal that both mouse and human disialosyl antibodies target the nodal axolemma, induce acute axonal degeneration in the presence of complement, and impair myelination. The human, neuropathy-associated IgM antibody is also shown to induce complement-independent demyelination. Myelinating co-cultures using human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived sensory neurons thus provide insights into the cellular and molecular specialization of axoglial signalling, how pharmacological agents may promote or impede such signalling and the pathogenic effects of ganglioside antibodies.awx012media15372351982001.

Keywords: Guillain-Barré syndrome; Schwann cell; chronic inflammatory demyelinating neuropathy; myelin; stem cells.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Anti-Idiotypic / pharmacology
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Coculture Techniques
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Mice
  • Myelin Sheath / physiology*
  • Neural Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Neural Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Neuregulin-1 / metabolism
  • Peripheral Nervous System / cytology
  • Peripheral Nervous System / drug effects
  • Peripheral Nervous System / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Schwann Cells
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Transduction, Genetic


  • Antibodies, Anti-Idiotypic
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • NRG1 protein, human
  • Neuregulin-1
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors