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Production of Cranial Placode from Human Stem Cells

Cranial placodes are transient structures during embryonic development that give rise to a number of sensory and endocrine tissues, such as the optic lens, nasal epithelium, the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland, along with certain nerves. A number of human disabilities are caused by defects in placode development, including forms of blindness, deafness, loss of smell and hormone imbalance. A new paper in Cell Reports from Lorenz Studer’s lab at the Sloan-Kettering Institute now details a method for directing differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells into placodes and derivatives thereof. Modifications to their earlier neural induction protocol yielded human cranial placodes. Further modifications resulted in differentiation of cells into trigeminal sensory neurons, lens fibers, or pituitary cells capable of producing hormones. Importantly, testing the resulting neurons and pituitary cells in in vivo models showed they were functional.  The ability to produce human cranial placode cells in vitro has previously not been possible. This work should allow better understanding of cranial placode development, along with increased knowledge of defects leading to human diseases. Additionally, this research may enable regenerative therapies for use after nerve damage or in hormone replacement. This work was supported by a NYSTEM award to Dr. Studer (C026447).

Dincer Z, Piao J, Niu L, Ganat Y, Kriks S, Zimmer B, Shi SH, Tabar V, Studer L. Specification of Functional Cranial Placode Derivatives from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells. Cell Reports. 2013 Dec 12; 5(5):1387-1402.