Brain’s Tiniest Blood Vessels Trigger Spinal Motor Neurons to Develop


Source: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Summary: A new study has revealed that the human brain’s tiniest blood vessels can activate genes known to trigger spinal motor neurons, prompting the neurons to grow during early development.


When a human embryo is about four weeks old, new blood vessels begin to surround a primitive column of cells that eventually will become the spinal cord. Driven by developmental genes, some of these cells turn into spinal motor neurons. A new study by researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has revealed that the human brain’s tiniest blood vessels can activate genes known to trigger spinal motor neurons, prompting the neurons to grow during early development. The findings could provide insights into how amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neurodegenerative disorders may develop. ALS is a progressive, fatal disorder that kills motor neurons. There is no known cure. More than 6,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disorder each year, according to the ALS Association.The study findings were published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

Organs-on-Chips technology

Layers of spinal motor neuron cells (top, in blue) and capillary cells (bottom, in red) converge inside an Organ-Chip. Neurons and capillary cells interact together along the length of the chip. The image was produced using a confocal microscope; colors were generated by staining with fluorescent antibodies. Credit: Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute

To make the discovery, investigators successfully re-created living tissues of the blood vessels and the spinal motor neurons which control muscles outside the body to show how they interact. Besides providing insights into human biology, the study opened a new pathway to unraveling the mysteries of disorders ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The study’s findings were made possible by a unique pairing of stem cell science with Organs-on-Chips technology, which re-creates human biology in micro-engineered environments. The research is part of the new Patient-on-a-Chip program, a collaboration between Cedars-Sinai and Emulate Inc. in Boston to help predict which disease treatments would be most effective based on a patient’s genetic makeup and disease variant.

Prof. Clive Svendsen said, “This study told us something important about how our neurons develop”, “As a next step, investigators are developing plans to use chip technology to compare the vessel-neuron interactions in ALS patients against those of individuals without ALS.”


More Information: Samuel Sances et al, “Human iPSC-Derived Endothelial Cells and Microengineered Organ-Chip Enhance Neuronal Development”, Stem Cell Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2018.02.012 


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