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Stem Cells International
Volume 2016, Article ID 8291260, 14 pages
Review Article

Neural Conversion and Patterning of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells: A Developmental Perspective

1Department of Molecular Neuroscience, UCL Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK
2Center for Neurology and Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, Eberhard-Karls-University, 72076 Tübingen, Germany
3National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, UCL Institute of Neurology, 33 Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK
4Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK
5Euan MacDonald Centre for MND, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH16 4SB, UK

Received 30 October 2015; Accepted 24 January 2016

Academic Editor: Jason Weick

Copyright © 2016 Alexandra Zirra et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Since the reprogramming of adult human terminally differentiated somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) became a reality in 2007, only eight years have passed. Yet over this relatively short period, myriad experiments have revolutionized previous stem cell dogmata. The tremendous promise of hiPSC technology for regenerative medicine has fuelled rising expectations from both the public and scientific communities alike. In order to effectively harness hiPSCs to uncover fundamental mechanisms of disease, it is imperative to first understand the developmental neurobiology underpinning their lineage restriction choices in order to predictably manipulate cell fate to desired derivatives. Significant progress in developmental biology provides an invaluable resource for rationalising directed differentiation of hiPSCs to cellular derivatives of the nervous system. In this paper we begin by reviewing core developmental concepts underlying neural induction in order to provide context for how such insights have guided reductionist in vitro models of neural conversion from hiPSCs. We then discuss early factors relevant in neural patterning, again drawing upon crucial knowledge gained from developmental neurobiological studies. We conclude by discussing open questions relating to these concepts and how their resolution might serve to strengthen the promise of pluripotent stem cells in regenerative medicine.