Neural stem/progenitor cells (NS/PCs) can generate a wide variety of neural cells. However, their fates are generally restricted, depending on the time and location of NS/PC origin. Here we demonstrate that we can recapitulate the spatiotemporal regulation of central nervous system (CNS) development in vitro by using a neurosphere-based culture system of embryonic stem (ES) cell-derived NS/PCs. This ES cell-derived neurosphere system enables the efficient derivation of highly neurogenic fibroblast growth factor-responsive NS/PCs with early temporal identities and high cell-fate plasticity. Over repeated passages, these NS/PCs exhibit temporal progression, becoming epidermal growth factor-responsive gliogenic NS/PCs with late temporal identities; this change is accompanied by an alteration in the epigenetic status of the glial fibrillary acidic protein promoter, similar to that observed in the developing brain. Moreover, the rostrocaudal and dorsoventral spatial identities of the NS/PCs can be successfully regulated by sequential administration of several morphogens. These NS/PCs can differentiate into early-born projection neurons, including cholinergic, catecholaminergic, serotonergic, and motor neurons, that exhibit action potentials in vitro. Finally, these NS/PCs differentiate into neurons that form synaptic contacts with host neurons after their transplantation into wild-type and disease model animals. Thus, this culture system can be used to obtain specific neurons from ES cells, is a simple and powerful tool for investigating the underlying mechanisms of CNS development, and is applicable to regenerative treatment for neurological disorders.
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