“It’s possible to guide human embryonic stem cells to become the precursor tissue of the central nervous system, research demonstrates.
The new study also reveals the important role of mechanical signals in the development of the human nervous system.
While studying embryonic development using animal embryos can provide useful insights about what happens during human development, human embryos grow differently even at this early stage.
“There is a critical need to establish embryonic developmental models using human cells. Not only could they advance our fundamental understanding of human development, they are also essential for regenerative medicine and for testing the safety of drugs and chemicals that pregnant women may need or encounter,” says Jianping Fu, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, who has been supervising the research.
“For the first time, we are able to use human embryonic stem cells to develop a synthetic model of neuroectoderm patterning, the embryonic event that begins the formation of the brain and spinal cord in the human embryo.”
In humans, the cells that will later differentiate into the central nervous system (including the brain and spinal cord) are known as the neural plate, while those that stand between the neural plate and future skin cells are called the neural plate border. The neural plate folds in on itself about 28 days after conception, becoming the neural tube, and the border on either side of it fuses together along its length. When the neural tube fails to close properly, it typically results in paralysis or death.
“The exact causes of neural tube defects are not clear, and there is currently no cure for them. Environmental factors, such as certain drugs pregnant women take, may play roles in causing neural tube defects,” Fu says.”