A method for reprogramming human cells in urine samples into neural progenitor cells is reported in a paper published in Nature Methods this week.
Neural progenitors are a potentially useful source of neurons for research and screening purposes. Unlike neurons, these progenitor cells divide and can therefore be expanded in the culture dish before they are differentiated into neurons for further study. There is tremendous interest in generating neural progenitors from individuals with neurodegenerative disease. Duanquing Pei and colleagues describe a reprogramming method that combines defined culture conditions with transient exposure to reprogramming transcription factors to convert cells from human urine into neural progenitors. The progenitors can efficiently generate functional neurons in vitro, as well as glial cells at lower efficiency.
Because the cells to be reprogrammed are derived non-invasively from the urine of adult donors, the authors propose that the procedure should be feasible for generating disease-specific neural progenitor cells. Neurons derived from these cells could prove useful for research on neurodegenerative disease and in screens for new drugs.