The development of functional astrocyte-neuron networks derived from stem cells

Eric J Hill

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


There is currently great scientific and medical interest in the potential of tissue grown from stem cells. These cells present opportunities for generating model systems for drug screening and toxicological testing which would be expected to be more relevant to human outcomes than animal based tissue preparations. Newly realised astrocytic roles in the brain have fundamental implications within the context of stem cell derived neuronal networks. If the aim of stem cell neuroscience is to generate functional neuronal networks that behave as networks do in the brain, then it becomes clear that we must include and understand all the cellular components that comprise that network, and which are important to support synaptic integrity and cell to cell signalling. We have shown that stem cell derived neurons exhibit spontaneous and coordinated calcium elevations in clusters and in extended processes, indicating local and long distance signalling (1). Tetrodotoxin sensitive network activity could also be evoked by electrical stimulation. Similarly, astrocytes exhibit morphology and functional properties consistent with this glial cell type. Astrocytes also respond to neuronal activity and to exogenously applied neurotransmitters with calcium elevations, and in contrast to neurons, also exhibited spontaneous rhythmic calcium oscillations. Astroctyes also generate propagating calcium waves that are gap junction and purinergic signalling dependent. Our results show that stem cell derived astrocytes exhibit appropriate functionality and that stem cell neuronal networks interact with astrocytic networks in co-culture. Using mixed cultures of stem cell derived neurons and astrocytes, we have also shown both cell types also modulate their glucose uptake, glycogen turnover and lactate production in response to glutamate as well as increased neuronal activity (2). This finding is consistent with their neuron-astrocyte metabolic coupling thus demonstrating a tractable human model, which will facilitate the study of the metabolic coupling between neurons and astrocytes and its relationship with CNS functional issues ranging from plasticity to neurodegeneration. Indeed, cultures treated with oligomers of amyloid beta 1-42 (Aβ1-42) also display a clear hypometabolism, particularly with regard to utilization of substrates such as glucose (3). Both co-cultures of neurons and astrocytes and purified cultures of astrocytes showed a significant decrease in glucose uptake after treatment with 2 and 0.2 μmol/L Aβ at all time points investigated (p <0.01). In addition, a significant increase in the glycogen content of cells was also measured. Mixed neuron and astrocyte co-cultures as well as pure astrocyte cultures showed an initial decrease in glycogen levels at 6 hours compared with control at 0.2 μmol/L and 2 μmol/L P <0.01. These changes were accompanied by changes in NAD+/NADH (P<0.05), ATP (P<0.05), and glutathione levels (P<0.05), suggesting a disruption in the energy-redox axis within these cultures. The high energy demands associated with neuronal functions such as memory formation and protection from oxidative stress put these cells at particular risk from Aβ-induced hypometabolism. As numerous cell types interact in the brain it is important that any in vitro model developed reflects this arrangement. Our findings indicate that stem cell derived neuron and astrocyte networks can communicate, and so have the potential to interact in a tripartite manner as is seen in vivo. This study therefore lays the foundation for further development of stem cell derived neurons and astrocytes into therapeutic cell replacement and human toxicology/disease models. More recently our data provides evidence for a detrimental effect of Aβ on carbohydrate metabolism in both neurons and astrocytes. As a purely in vitro system, human stem cell models can be readily manipulated and maintained in culture for a period of months without the use of animals. In our laboratory cultures can be maintained in culture for up to 12 months months thus providing the opportunity to study the consequences of these changes over extended periods of time relevant to aspects of the disease progression time frame in vivo. In addition, their human origin provides a more realistic in vitro model as well as informing other human in vitro models such as patient-derived iPSC.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventPhysiology 2015 - Cardiff, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Jul 20158 Jul 2015


ConferencePhysiology 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Bibliographical note

Proceedings of the Physiological Society 34, SA037


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