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Highly efficient differentiation of neural precursors from human embryonic stem cells and benefits of transplantation after ischemic stroke in mice

Danielle Drury-Stewart12, Mingke Song1, Osama Mohamad1, Ying Guo3, Xiaohuan Gu1, Dongdong Chen1 and Ling Wei1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anesthesiology, Emory University, 101 Woodruff Circle, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA

2 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, 15 Ferst Drive, NW, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA

3 Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Emory University, 1518 Clifton Road, NE, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA

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Stem Cell Research & Therapy 2013, 4:93  doi:10.1186/scrt292

Published: 8 August 2013



Ischemic stroke is a leading cause of death and disability, but treatment options are severely limited. Cell therapy offers an attractive strategy for regenerating lost tissues and enhancing the endogenous healing process. In this study, we investigated the use of human embryonic stem cell-derived neural precursors as a cell therapy in a murine stroke model.


Neural precursors were derived from human embryonic stem cells by using a fully adherent SMAD inhibition protocol employing small molecules. The efficiency of neural induction and the ability of these cells to further differentiate into neurons were assessed by using immunocytochemistry. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording was used to demonstrate the electrophysiological activity of human embryonic stem cell-derived neurons. Neural precursors were transplanted into the core and penumbra regions of a focal ischemic stroke in the barrel cortex of mice. Animals received injections of bromodeoxyuridine to track regeneration. Neural differentiation of the transplanted cells and regenerative markers were measured by using immunohistochemistry. The adhesive removal test was used to determine functional improvement after stroke and intervention.


After 11 days of neural induction by using the small-molecule protocol, over 95% of human embryonic stem-derived cells expressed at least one neural marker. Further in vitro differentiation yielded cells that stained for mature neuronal markers and exhibited high-amplitude, repetitive action potentials in response to depolarization. Neuronal differentiation also occurred after transplantation into the ischemic cortex. A greater level of bromodeoxyuridine co-localization with neurons was observed in the penumbra region of animals receiving cell transplantation. Transplantation also improved sensory recovery in transplant animals over that in control animals.


Human embryonic stem cell-derived neural precursors derived by using a highly efficient small-molecule SMAD inhibition protocol can differentiate into electrophysiologically functional neurons in vitro. These cells also differentiate into neurons in vivo, enhance regenerative activities, and improve sensory recovery after ischemic stroke.

Human embryonic stem cell; Neural precursor; Electrophysiology; Stem cell; Cell therapy; Ischemic stroke; Neurogenesis; Small molecule