Dopamine (DA) cell replacement therapy in Parkinson disease (PD) can be achieved using human fetal mesencephalic tissue; however, limited tissue availability has hindered further developments. Embryonic stem cells provide a promising alternative, but poor survival and risk of teratoma formation have prevented their clinical application. We present here a method for generating large numbers of DA neurons based on expanding and differentiating ventral midbrain (VM) neural stem cells/progenitors in the presence of key signals necessary for VM DA neuron development. Mouse VM neurospheres (VMNs) expanded with FGF2, differentiated with sonic hedgehog and FGF8, and transfected with Wnt5a (VMN-Wnt5a) generated 10-fold more DA neurons than did conventional FGF2-treated VMNs. VMN-Wnt5a cells exhibited the transcriptional and biochemical profiles and intrinsic electrophysiological properties of midbrain DA cells. Transplantation of these cells into parkinsonian mice resulted in significant cellular and functional recovery. Importantly, no tumors were detected and only a few transplanted grafts contained sporadic nestin-expressing progenitors. Our findings show that Wnt5a improves the differentiation and functional integration of stem cell–derived DA neurons in vivo and define Wnt5a-treated neural stem cells as an efficient and safe source of DA neurons for cell replacement therapy in PD.
Clare L. Parish, Gonçalo Castelo-Branco, Nina Rawal, Jan Tonnesen, Andreas Toft Sorensen, Carmen Salto, Merab Kokaia, Olle Lindvall, Ernest Arenas