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Chemical approach to generating long-term self-renewing pMN progenitors from human embryonic stem cells
Guan-Yu Zhang1 , Wen-Lin Li1,2,*
1Department of Cell Biology, Second Military Medical University, Shanghai 200433, China
2Shanghai Key Laboratory of Cell Engineering, Second Military Medical University, Shanghai 200433, China
*Correspondence to:Wen-Lin Li , Email:liwenlin@smmu.edu.cn
J Mol Cell Biol, Volume 14, Issue 1, January 2022, 106-114,  https://doi.org/10.1093/jmcb/mjab076
Keyword: human embryonic stem cells, neural differentiation, chemical approach, self-renewing, progenitors of motor neurons, oligodendrocytes

Spinal cord impairment involving motor neuron degeneration and demyelination can cause lifelong disabilities, but effective clinical interventions for restoring neurological functions have yet to be developed. In early spinal cord development, neural progenitors of the motor neuron (pMN) domain, defined by the expression of oligodendrocyte transcription factor 2 (OLIG2), in the ventral spinal cord first generate motor neurons and then switch the fate to produce myelin-forming oligodendrocytes. Given their differentiation potential, pMN progenitors could be a valuable cell source for cell therapy in relevant neurological conditions such as spinal cord injury. However, fast generation and expansion of pMN progenitors in vitro while conserving their differentiation potential has so far been technically challenging. In this study, based on chemical screening, we have developed a new recipe for efficient induction of pMN progenitors from human embryonic stem cells. More importantly, these OLIG2+ pMN progenitors can be stably maintained for multiple passages without losing their ability to produce spinal motor neurons and oligodendrocytes rapidly. Our results suggest that these self-renewing pMN progenitors could potentially be useful as a renewable source of cell transplants for spinal cord injury and demyelinating disorders.