Embryonic stem (ES) cells are genetically manipulable pluripotential cells that can be differentiated in vitro into neurons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes. Given their potential utility as a source of replacement cells for the injured nervous system and the likelihood that transplantation interventions might include co-application of growth factors, we examined the effects of neurotrophin and GDNF family ligands on the survival and excitotoxic vulnerability of ES cell-derived neurons (ES neurons) grown in vitro. ES cells were differentiated down a neural lineage in vitro using the 4-/4+ protocol (Bain et al., Dev Biol 168:342-57, 1995). RT-PCR demonstrated expression of receptors for neurotrophins and GDNF family ligands in ES neural lineage cells. Neuronal expression of GFRα1, GFRα2, and ret was confirmed by immunocytochemistry. Exposure to 30-100 ng/ml GDNF or neurturin (NRTN) resulted in activation of ret. Addition of NT-3 and GDNF did not increase cell division but did increase the number of neurons in the cultures 7 days after plating. Pretreatment with NT-3 enhanced the vulnerability of ES neurons to NMDA-induced death (100 μM NMDA for 10 min) and enhanced the NMDA-induced increase in neuronal [Ca 2+] i, but did not alter expression of NMDA receptor subunits NR2A or NR2B. In contrast, pretreatment with GDNF reduced the vulnerability of ES neurons to NMDA-induced death while modestly enhancing the NMDA-induced increase in neuronal [Ca 2+] i. These findings demonstrate that the response of ES-derived neurons to neurotrophins and GDNF family ligands is largely similar to that of other cultured central neurons.
- Trk receptor