Cortical neurons derived from human pluripotent stem cells lacking FMRP display altered spontaneous firing patterns

Mol Autism. 2020 Jun 19;11(1):52. doi: 10.1186/s13229-020-00351-4.


Background: Fragile X syndrome (FXS), a neurodevelopmental disorder, is a leading monogenetic cause of intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder. Notwithstanding the extensive studies using rodent and other pre-clinical models of FXS, which have provided detailed mechanistic insights into the pathophysiology of this disorder, it is only relatively recently that human stem cell-derived neurons have been employed as a model system to further our understanding of the pathophysiological events that may underlie FXS. Our study assesses the physiological properties of human pluripotent stem cell-derived cortical neurons lacking fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP).

Methods: Electrophysiological whole-cell voltage- and current-clamp recordings were performed on two control and three FXS patient lines of human cortical neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells. In addition, we also describe the properties of an isogenic pair of lines in one of which FMR1 gene expression has been silenced.

Results: Neurons lacking FMRP displayed bursts of spontaneous action potential firing that were more frequent but shorter in duration compared to those recorded from neurons expressing FMRP. Inhibition of large conductance Ca2+-activated K+ currents and the persistent Na+ current in control neurons phenocopies action potential bursting observed in neurons lacking FMRP, while in neurons lacking FMRP pharmacological potentiation of voltage-dependent Na+ channels phenocopies action potential bursting observed in control neurons. Notwithstanding the changes in spontaneous action potential firing, we did not observe any differences in the intrinsic properties of neurons in any of the lines examined. Moreover, we did not detect any differences in the properties of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents in any of the lines.

Conclusions: Pharmacological manipulations can alter the action potential burst profiles in both control and FMRP-null human cortical neurons, making them appear like their genetic counterpart. Our studies indicate that FMRP targets that have been found in rodent models of FXS are also potential targets in a human-based model system, and we suggest potential mechanisms by which activity is altered.

Keywords: Action potential; Disease-modelling; Electrophysiology; Fragile X syndrome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Indoles / pharmacology
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Riluzole / pharmacology
  • Sodium Channels / metabolism
  • Veratridine / pharmacology
  • Young Adult


  • Indoles
  • Sodium Channels
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein
  • paxilline
  • Veratridine
  • Riluzole