In vitro models of the developing brain such as three-dimensional brain organoids offer an unprecedented opportunity to study aspects of human brain development and disease. However, the cells generated within organoids and the extent to which they recapitulate the regional complexity, cellular diversity and circuit functionality of the brain remain undefined. Here we analyse gene expression in over 80,000 individual cells isolated from 31 human brain organoids. We find that organoids can generate a broad diversity of cells, which are related to endogenous classes, including cells from the cerebral cortex and the retina. Organoids could be developed over extended periods (more than 9 months), allowing for the establishment of relatively mature features, including the formation of dendritic spines and spontaneously active neuronal networks. Finally, neuronal activity within organoids could be controlled using light stimulation of photosensitive cells, which may offer a way to probe the functionality of human neuronal circuits using physiological sensory stimuli.
Cell type-specific changes in neuronal excitability have been proposed to contribute to the selective degeneration of corticospinal neurons in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and to neocortical hyperexcitability, a prominent feature of both inherited and sporadic variants of the disease, but the mechanisms underlying selective loss of specific cell types in ALS are not known. We analyzed the physiological properties of distinct classes of cortical neurons in the motor cortex of hSOD1G93A mice of both sexes and found that they all exhibit increases in intrinsic excitability that depend on disease stage. Targeted recordings and in vivo calcium imaging further revealed that neurons adapt their functional properties to normalize cortical excitability as the disease progresses. Although different neuron classes all exhibited increases in intrinsic excitability, transcriptional profiling indicated that the molecular mechanisms underlying these changes are cell type specific. The increases in excitability in both excitatory and inhibitory cortical neurons show that selective dysfunction of neuronal cell types cannot account for the specific vulnerability of corticospinal motor neurons in ALS. Furthermore, the stage-dependent alterations in neuronal function highlight the ability of cortical circuits to adapt as disease progresses. These findings show that both disease stage and cell type must be considered when developing therapeutic strategies for treating ALS.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT It is not known why certain classes of neurons preferentially die in different neurodegenerative diseases. It has been proposed that the enhanced excitability of affected neurons is a major contributor to their selective loss. We show using a mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease in which corticospinal neurons exhibit selective vulnerability, that changes in excitability are not restricted to this neuronal class and that excitability does not increase monotonically with disease progression. Moreover, although all neuronal cell types tested exhibited abnormal functional properties, analysis of their gene expression demonstrated cell type-specific responses to the ALS-causing mutation. These findings suggest that therapies for ALS may need to be tailored for different cell types and stages of disease.
Three-dimensional (3D) brain organoids derived from human pluripotent stem cells hold great potential to investigate complex human genetic states and to model aspects of human brain development and pathology. However, the field of brain organoids is still in its infancy, and their use has been limited by their variability and their inability to differentiate into 3D structures with reproducible anatomical organization. Here, starting from a review of basic principles of in vitro 'brain organogenesis', we discuss which aspects of human brain development and disease can be faithfully modeled with current brain organoid protocols, and discuss improvements that would allow them to become reliable tools to investigate complex features of human brain development and disease.
How do astrocyte-derived neurons deal with the sudden loss of their glial identity? Exciting new findings from Gascón et al. (2016) single out metabolic conversion as a critical checkpoint for direct neuronal reprogramming.
Neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia (SCZ) and bipolar disorder (BPD) are of great societal and medical importance, but the complexity of these diseases and the challenges of modeling the development and function of the human brain have made these disorders difficult to study experimentally. The recent development of 3D brain organoids derived from human pluripotent stem cells offers a promising approach for investigating the phenotypic underpinnings of these highly polygenic disorders and for understanding the contribution of individual risk variants and complex genetic background to human pathology. Here we discuss the advantages, limitations and future applications of human brain organoids as in vitro models of neuropsychiatric disease.
Achieving gender equality in science will require devising and implementing strategies to overcome the political, administrative, financial, and cultural challenges that exist in the current environment. In this forum, we propose an initial shortlist of recommendations to promote gender equality in science and stimulate future efforts to level the field.
Homeosis is classically defined as the transformation of one body part into something that resembles another body part. We propose here to broaden the concept of homeosis to the many neuronal cell identity transformations that have been uncovered over the past few years upon removal of specific regulatory factors in organisms from Caenorhabditis elegans to Drosophila, zebrafish, and mice. The concept of homeosis provides a framework for the evolution of cell type diversity in the brain.
During development of the cerebral cortex, local GABAergic interneurons recognize and pair with excitatory projection neurons to ensure the fine excitatory-inhibitory balance essential for proper circuit function. Whether the class-specific identity of projection neurons has a role in the establishment of afferent inhibitory synapses is debated. Here, we report that direct in vivo lineage reprogramming of layer 2/3 (L2/3) callosal projection neurons (CPNs) into induced corticofugal projection neurons (iCFuPNs) increases inhibitory input onto the converted neurons to levels similar to that of endogenous CFuPNs normally found in layer 5 (L5). iCFuPNs recruit increased numbers of inhibitory perisomatic synapses from parvalbumin (PV)-positive interneurons, with single-cell precision and despite their ectopic location in L2/3. The data show that individual reprogrammed excitatory projection neurons extrinsically modulate afferent input by local PV(+) interneurons, suggesting that projection neuron class-specific identity can actively control the wiring of the cortical microcircuit.
UNLABELLED: Neuronal development requires a complex choreography of transcriptional decisions to obtain specific cellular identities. Realizing the ultimate goal of identifying genome-wide signatures that define and drive specific neuronal fates has been hampered by enormous complexity in both time and space during development. Here, we have paired high-throughput purification of pyramidal neuron subclasses with deep profiling of spatiotemporal transcriptional dynamics during corticogenesis to resolve lineage choice decisions. We identified numerous features ranging from spatial and temporal usage of alternative mRNA isoforms and promoters to a host of mRNA genes modulated during fate specification. Notably, we uncovered numerous long noncoding RNAs with restricted temporal and cell-type-specific expression. To facilitate future exploration, we provide an interactive online database to enable multidimensional data mining and dissemination. This multifaceted study generates a powerful resource and informs understanding of the transcriptional regulation underlying pyramidal neuron diversity in the neocortex.
Myelin is a defining feature of the vertebrate nervous system. Variability in the thickness of the myelin envelope is a structural feature affecting the conduction of neuronal signals. Conversely, the distribution of myelinated tracts along the length of axons has been assumed to be uniform. Here, we traced high-throughput electron microscopy reconstructions of single axons of pyramidal neurons in the mouse neocortex and built high-resolution maps of myelination. We find that individual neurons have distinct longitudinal distribution of myelin. Neurons in the superficial layers displayed the most diversified profiles, including a new pattern where myelinated segments are interspersed with long, unmyelinated tracts. Our data indicate that the profile of longitudinal distribution of myelin is an integral feature of neuronal identity and may have evolved as a strategy to modulate long-distance communication in the neocortex.
The neocortex contains an unparalleled diversity of neuronal subtypes, each defined by distinct traits that are developmentally acquired under the control of subtype-specific and pan-neuronal genes. The regulatory logic that orchestrates the expression of these unique combinations of genes is unknown for any class of cortical neuron. Here, we report that Fezf2 is a selector gene able to regulate the expression of gene sets that collectively define mouse corticospinal motor neurons (CSMN). We find that Fezf2 directly induces the glutamatergic identity of CSMN via activation of Vglut1 (Slc17a7) and inhibits a GABAergic fate by repressing transcription of Gad1. In addition, we identify the axon guidance receptor EphB1 as a target of Fezf2 necessary to execute the ipsilateral extension of the corticospinal tract. Our data indicate that co-regulated expression of neuron subtype-specific and pan-neuronal gene batteries by a single transcription factor is one component of the regulatory logic responsible for the establishment of CSMN identity.
Cortical and striatal interneurons are both generated within the ventral telencephalon, but their migratory journey takes them to very different destinations. Two articles in this issue (van den Berge et al., 2013; McKinsey et al., 2013) add an important molecular component to our understanding of how, during development, interneurons reach the cerebral cortex.
Although myelination largely occurs during early postnatal life, myelinating oligodendrocytes are still generated in the adult brain. Myelin turnover in the adult is necessary for proper neuronal function and is gravely compromised in myelin disorders. The lineage relationship between adult neural stem cells and adult-born oligodendrocytes has been clarified, highlighting molecular pathways that could potentially be targeted to favour de novo myelination in pathological situations.