A major obstacle in studying human central nervous system (CNS) diseases is inaccessibility to the affected tissue and cells. Even in limited cases where tissue is available through surgical interventions, differentiated neurons cannot be maintained for extended time frames, which is prohibitive for experimental repetition and scalability. Advances in methodologies for reprogramming human somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) and directed differentiation of human neurons in culture now allow access to physiological and disease relevant cell types. In particular, patient iPSC-derived neurons represent unique ex vivo neuronal networks that allow investigating disease genetic and molecular pathways in physiologically accurate cellular microenvironments, importantly recapitulating molecular and cellular phenotypic aspects of disease. Generation of functional neural cells from iPSCs relies on manipulation of culture formats in the presence of specific factors that promote the conversion of pluripotent stem cells into neurons. To this end, several experimental protocols have been developed. Direct differentiation of stem cells into post-mitotic neurons is usually associated with low throughput, low yield, and high technical variability. Instead, methods relying on expansion of the intermediate neural progenitor cells (NPCs) show incredible potential for posterior generation of suitable neuronal cultures for cellular and biochemical assays, as well as drug screening. NPCs are expandable, self-renewable multipotent cells that can differentiate into astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and electrically active neurons. Here, we describe a protocol for generating iPSC-derived NPCs via formation of neural aggregates and selection of NPC precursor neural rosettes, followed by a simple and reproducible method for generating a mixed population of cortical-like neurons through growth factor withdrawal. Implementation of this protocol has the potential to advance the goals of precision medicine research for both neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Keywords: Drug discovery; Human neurons; Induced pluripotent stem cells; Neural differentiation; Neural progenitor cells; Neural rosettes; Precision medicine.
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