The pathophysiology of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), remain difficult to ascertain in part because animal models fail to fully recapitulate the complex pathophysiology of these diseases. In vitro models of neurodegenerative diseases generated with patient derived human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) and human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) could provide new insight into disease mechanisms. Although protocols to differentiate hiPSCs and hESCs to neurons have been established, standard practice relies on two dimensional (2D) cell culture systems, which do not accurately mimic the complexity and architecture of the in vivo brain microenvironment.
I have developed protocols to generate 3D cultures of neurons from hiPSCs and hESCs, to provide more accurate models of AD. In the first protocol, hiPSC-derived neural progenitor cells (hNPCs) are plated in a suspension of Matrigel™ prior to terminal differentiation of neurons. In the second protocol, hiPSCs are forced into aggregates called embryoid bodies (EBs) in suspension culture and subsequently directed to the neural lineage through dual SMAD inhibition. Culture conditions are then changed to expand putative hNPC populations and finally differentiated to neuronal spheroids through activation of the tyrosine kinase pathway. The gene expression profiles of the 3D hiPSC-derived neural cultures were compared to fetal brain RNA. Our analysis has revealed that 3D neuronal cultures express high levels of mature pan-neuronal markers (e.g. MAP2, β3T) and neural transmitter subtype specific markers. The 3D neuronal spheroids also showed signs of neural patterning, similar to that observed during embryonic development. These 3D culture systems should provide a platform to probe disease mechanisms of AD and enable to generation of more advanced therapeutics.