Small-molecule-driven direct reprogramming of mouse fibroblasts into functional neurons

Li, X., Zuo, X., Jing, J., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Liu, D., ... & Xu, J.

Cell stem cell 17.2 (2015): 195-203.

Recently, direct reprogramming between divergent lineages has been achieved by the introduction of regulatory transcription factors. This approach may provide alternative cell resources for drug discovery and regenerative medicine, but applications could be limited by the genetic manipulation involved. Here, we show that mouse fibroblasts can be directly converted into neuronal cells using only a cocktail of small molecules, with a yield of up to >90% being TUJ1-positive after 16 days of induction. After a further maturation stage, these chemically induced neurons (CiNs) possessed neuron-specific expression patterns, generated action potentials, and formed functional synapses. Mechanistically, we found that a BET family bromodomain inhibitor, I-BET151, disrupted the fibroblast-specific program, while the neurogenesis inducer ISX9 was necessary to activate neuron-specific genes. Overall, our findings provide a "proof of principle" for chemically induced direct reprogramming of somatic cell fates across germ layers without genetic manipulation, through disruption of cell-specific programs and induction of an alternative fate.

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