Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Building Better Brains

Extracellular matrix provides appropriate signals to mature stem cells into functional neurons in a life-like brain model

19 February 2020

Building Better Brains

Faced with the challenge of understanding the complex human brain, researchers turn to brain tissue models grown from human induced neural stem cells (hiNSCs). To create more accurate models, researchers experimented with growing hiNSCs on extracellular matrix (ECM), which sends important signals to the developing brain. hiNSCs were grown on collagen, the most abundant ECM protein, or foetal or adult brain ECM from pigs. Neurons and their support cells, astrocytes, were generated in all cases. But neurons were best maintained on ECM, particularly foetal brain ECM. Notably, a process in brain disease reactive astrogliosis, which increases astrocyte numbers, was suppressed on ECM but not on collagen. This was detected by fluorescence microscopy as an increase in fluorescence marking astrocytes (green) in tissue grown on collagen (right) compared to on foetal (left) or adult brain ECM (middle). This brings us closer to brain models that accurately reflect human brains.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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