Astrocyte lineage cells are essential for functional neuronal differentiation and synapse maturation in human iPSC-derived neural networks

Glia. 2019 Oct;67(10):1893-1909. doi: 10.1002/glia.23666. Epub 2019 Jun 27.


Human astrocytes differ dramatically in cell morphology and gene expression from murine astrocytes. The latter are well known to be of major importance in the formation of neuronal networks by promoting synapse maturation. However, whether human astrocyte lineage cells have a similar role in network formation has not been firmly established. Here, we investigated the impact of human astrocyte lineage cells on the functional maturation of neural networks that were derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). Initial in vitro differentiation of hiPSC-derived neural progenitor cells and immature neurons (glia+ cultures) resulted in spontaneously active neural networks as indicated by synchronous neuronal Ca2+ transients. Depleting proliferating neural progenitors from these cultures by short-term antimitotic treatment resulted in strongly astrocyte lineage cell-depleted neuronal networks (glia- cultures). Strikingly, in contrast to glia+ cultures, glia- cultures did not exhibit spontaneous network activity. Detailed analysis of the morphological and electrophysiological properties of neurons by patch clamp recordings revealed reduced dendritic arborization in glia- cultures. In addition, a reduced action potential frequency upon current injection in pyramidal-like neurons was observed, whereas the electrical excitability of multipolar neurons was unaltered. Furthermore, we found a reduced dendritic density of PSD95-positive excitatory synapses, and more immature properties of AMPA (alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid) miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs) in glia- cultures, suggesting that the maturation of glutamatergic synapses depends on the presence of hiPSC-derived astrocyte lineage cells. Intriguingly, addition of the astrocyte-derived synapse maturation inducer cholesterol increased the dendritic density of PSD95-positive excitatory synapses in glia- cultures.

Keywords: human iPSCs; iPSC-derived astrocyte lineage cells; network function; neuronal differentiation; synapse maturation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Cell Lineage*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Miniature Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neural Stem Cells / physiology
  • Neurogenesis / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Receptors, AMPA / metabolism
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Glutamic Acid