The application of in vitro-derived human neurons in neurodegenerative disease modeling

J Neurosci Res. 2021 Jan;99(1):124-140. doi: 10.1002/jnr.24615. Epub 2020 Mar 13.


The development of safe and effective treatments for age-associated neurodegenerative disorders is an on-going challenge faced by the scientific field. Key to the development of such therapies is the appropriate selection of modeling systems in which to investigate disease mechanisms and to test candidate interventions. There are unique challenges in the development of representative laboratory models of neurodegenerative diseases, including the complexity of the human brain, the cumulative and variable contributions of genetic and environmental factors over the course of a lifetime, inability to culture human primary neurons, and critical central nervous system differences between small animal models and humans. While traditional rodent models have advanced our understanding of neurodegenerative disease mechanisms, key divergences such as the species-specific genetic background can limit the application of animal models in many cases. Here we review in vitro human neuronal systems that employ stem cell and reprogramming technology and their application to a range of neurodegenerative diseases. Specifically, we compare human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons to directly converted, or transdifferentiated, induced neurons, as both model systems can take advantage of patient-derived human tissue to produce neurons in culture. We present recent technical developments using these two modeling systems, as well as current limitations to these systems, with the aim of advancing investigation of neuropathogenic mechanisms using these models.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; aging; direct conversion; iNs; iPSCs; induced neuron; induced pluripotent stem cells; neurodegenerative disease; stem cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cellular Reprogramming
  • Cellular Reprogramming Techniques / methods*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Neural Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases*
  • Neurons / cytology*