Neural crest cells (NCCs) are an embryonic migratory cell population with the ability to differentiate into a wide variety of cell types that contribute to the craniofacial skeleton, cornea, peripheral nervous system, and skin pigmentation. This ability suggests the promising role of NCCs as a source for cell-based therapy. Although several methods have been used to induce human NCCs (hNCCs) from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), such as embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), further modifications are required to improve the robustness, efficacy, and simplicity of these methods. Chemically defined medium (CDM) was used as the basal medium in the induction and maintenance steps. By optimizing the culture conditions, the combination of the GSK3β inhibitor and TGFβ inhibitor with a minimum growth factor (insulin) very efficiently induced hNCCs (70-80%) from hPSCs. The induced hNCCs expressed cranial NCC-related genes and stably proliferated in CDM supplemented with EGF and FGF2 up to at least 10 passages without changes being observed in the major gene expression profiles. Differentiation properties were confirmed for peripheral neurons, glia, melanocytes, and corneal endothelial cells. In addition, cells with differentiation characteristics similar to multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) were induced from hNCCs using CDM specific for human MSCs. Our simple and robust induction protocol using small molecule compounds with defined media enabled the generation of hNCCs as an intermediate material producing terminally differentiated cells for cell-based innovative medicine.
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