Induction of dopaminergic neurons for neuronal subtype-specific modeling of psychiatric disease risk

Mol Psychiatry. 2023 May;28(5):1970-1982. doi: 10.1038/s41380-021-01273-0. Epub 2021 Sep 7.


Dopaminergic neurons are critical to movement, mood, addiction, and stress. Current techniques for generating dopaminergic neurons from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) yield heterogenous cell populations with variable purity and inconsistent reproducibility between donors, hiPSC clones, and experiments. Here, we report the rapid (5 weeks) and efficient (~90%) induction of induced dopaminergic neurons (iDANs) through transient overexpression of lineage-promoting transcription factors combined with stringent selection across five donors. We observe maturation-dependent increase in dopamine synthesis and electrophysiological properties consistent with midbrain dopaminergic neuron identity, such as slow-rising after- hyperpolarization potentials, an action potential duration of ~3 ms, tonic sub-threshold oscillatory activity, and spontaneous burst firing at a frequency of ~1.0-1.75 Hz. Transcriptome analysis reveals robust expression of genes involved in fetal midbrain dopaminergic neuron identity. Specifically expressed genes in iDANs, as well as those from isogenic induced GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons, were enriched in loci conferring heritability for cannabis use disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder; however, each neuronal subtype demonstrated subtype-specific heritability enrichments in biologically relevant pathways, and iDANs alone were uniquely enriched in autism spectrum disorder risk loci. Therefore, iDANs provide a critical tool for modeling midbrain dopaminergic neuron development and dysfunction in psychiatric disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells* / metabolism
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism
  • Reproducibility of Results