Chemical modulation of transcriptionally enriched signaling pathways to optimize the conversion of fibroblasts into neurons

Elife. 2019 May 17:8:e41356. doi: 10.7554/eLife.41356.


Direct conversion of human somatic fibroblasts into induced neurons (iNs) allows for the generation of functional neurons while bypassing any stem cell intermediary stages. Although iN technology has an enormous potential for modeling age-related diseases, as well as therapeutic approaches, the technology faces limitations due to variable conversion efficiencies and a lack of thorough understanding of the signaling pathways directing iN conversion. Here, we introduce a new all-in-one inducible lentiviral system that simplifies fibroblast transgenesis for the two pioneer transcription factors, Ngn2 and Ascl1, and markedly improves iN yields. Further, our timeline RNA-Seq data across the course of conversion has identified signaling pathways that become transcriptionally enriched during iN conversion. Small molecular modulators were identified for four signaling pathways that reliably increase the yield of iNs. Taken together, these advances provide an improved toolkit for iN technology and new insight into the mechanisms influencing direct iN conversion.

Keywords: direct reprogramming; human; iN; induced neurons; lentivirus; pathway analysis; regenerative medicine; stem cells; transgenesis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / biosynthesis
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Cell Transdifferentiation*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects*
  • Fibroblasts / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Young Adult


  • ASCL1 protein, human
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • NEUROG2 protein, human
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins