Over the past year or so, teams around the world have reported using stem cells to make increasingly complex portions of the brain. Earlier this month we wrote about a team at Stanford who had grown “organoids” that simulated the brain’s cortex with both nerves and support cells that communicated back and forth with each other. Now, a team at the National Institutes of Health has created nerves from two distinct parts of the brain and got them to make connections for the cross-talk that makes our brains so wonderfully complex.
The researchers used reprogrammed iPS type stem cells made from skin samples to create two types of nerves in two separate chambers of a lab container. One, called mesencephalic dopaminergic (mDA) nerves, has been linked to disorders like drug abuse, schizophrenia and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. In the other chamber they grew nerves that became part of the brain’s cortex responsible for memory, attention and language.
After coaxing the stem cells to become the two distinct nerve types in their own chamber, the researchers removed a barrier between the chambers and observed the two cell types making the kind of connections needed for thought.
The lead researcher, Chun-Ting Lee described the value of this new system in understanding disease using human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), either iPS or embryonic:
“This method, therefore, has the potential to expand the potential of hPSC-derived neurons to allow for studies of human neural systems and interconnections that have previously not been possible to model in vitro.”
A press release from the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience was picked up by ScienceNewsline.