Recent groundbreaking work has demonstrated that combined expression of the transcription factors Brn2, Ascl1, and Myt1L (BAM; also known as Wernig factors) convert mouse fibroblasts into postmitotic neuronal cells. However, questions remain regarding whether trans-conversion is achieved directly or involves an intermediary precursor stage. Trans-conversion toward expandable neural precursor cells (NPCs) is more useful than direct one-step neuron formation with respect to yielding a sufficient number of cells and the feasibility of manipulating NPC differentiation toward certain neuron subtypes. Here, we show that co-expression of Wernig factors and Bcl-xL induces fibroblast conversion into NPCs (induced NPCs (iNPCs)) that are highly expandable for >100 passages. Gene expression analyses showed that the iNPCs exhibited high expression of common NPC genes but not genes specific to defined embryonic brain regions. This finding indicated that a regional identity of iNPCs was not established. Upon induction, iNPCs predominantly differentiated into astrocytes. However, the differentiation potential was not fixed and could be efficiently manipulated into general or specific subtypes of neurons by expression of additional genes. Specifically, overexpression of Nurr1 and Foxa2, transcription factors specific for midbrain dopamine neuron development, drove iNPCs to yield mature midbrain dopamine neurons equipped with presynaptic DA neuronal functions. We further assessed the therapeutic potential of iNPCs in Parkinson disease model rats.
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