Motor neuron derivation from human embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells: Experimental approaches and clinical perspectives

Irene Faravelli, Monica Bucchia, Paola Rinchetti, Monica Nizzardo, Chiara Simone, Emanuele Frattini, Stefania Corti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Motor neurons are cells located in specific areas of the central nervous system, such as brain cortex (upper motor neurons), brain stem, and spinal cord (lower motor neurons), which maintain control over voluntary actions. Motor neurons are affected primarily by a wide spectrum of neurological disorders, generally indicated as motor neuron diseases (MNDs): these disorders share symptoms related to muscular atrophy and paralysis leading to death. No effective treatments are currently available. Stem cell-derived motor neurons represent a promising research tool in disease modeling, drug screening, and development of therapeutic approaches for MNDs and spinal cord injuries. Directed differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells - human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) - toward specific lineages is the first crucial step in order to extensively employ these cells in early human development investigation and potential clinical applications. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) can be generated from patients' own somatic cells (for example, fibroblasts) by reprogramming them with specific factors. They can be considered embryonic stem cell-like cells, which express stem cell markers and have the ability to give rise to all three germ layers, bypassing the ethical concerns. Thus, hiPSCs constitute an appealing alternative source of motor neurons. These motor neurons might be a great research tool, creating a model for investigating the cellular and molecular interactions underlying early human brain development and pathologies during neurodegeneration. Patient-specific iPSCs may also provide the premises for autologous cell replacement therapies without related risks of immune rejection. Here, we review the most recent reported methods by which hESCs or iPSCs can be differentiated toward functional motor neurons with an overview on the potential clinical applications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number87
JournalStem Cell Research and Therapy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 14 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Cell Biology
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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