Transplantation of Human Cortically-Specified Neuroepithelial Progenitor Cells Leads to Improved Functional Outcomes in a Mouse Model of Stroke

Front Cell Neurosci. 2021 Apr 29:15:654290. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2021.654290. eCollection 2021.


Stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability worldwide. Current therapeutic options are limited in terms of their time for implementation and efficacy in promoting recovery. Cell transplantation has been shown to have promise in several animal models however significant challenges remain, including the optimal source of cells to promote neural repair. Here, we report on the use of a population of human ESC derived, cortically specified, neuroepithelial precursor cells (cNEPs) that are neurally restricted in their lineage potential. CNEPs have the potential to give rise to mature neural cell types following transplantation, including neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. With a view towards translation, we sought to determine whether this human cell source was effective in promoting improved functional outcomes following stroke. Undifferentiated cNEPs were transplanted in a pre-clinical endothelin-1 (ET-1) model of ischemic motor cortical stroke in immunocompromised SCID-beige mice and cellular and functional outcomes were assessed. We demonstrate that cNEP transplantation in the acute phase (4 days post-stroke) improves motor function as early as 20 days post-stroke, compared to stroke-injured, non-transplanted mice. At the time of recovery, a small fraction (<6%) of the transplanted cNEPs are observed within the stroke injury site. The surviving cells expressed the immature neuronal marker, doublecortin, with no differentiation into mature neural phenotypes. At longer survival times (40 days), the majority of recovered, transplanted mice had a complete absence of surviving cNEPS. Hence, human cNEPs grafted at early times post-stroke support the observed functional recovery following ET-1 stroke but their persistence is not required, thereby supporting a by-stander effect rather than cell replacement.

Keywords: human neuroepithelial cell; human stem cell transplantation; immunogenic response; mouse behavior; stem cell survival and differentiation; stroke.