In-vitro growth of 3D spinal cord observed for first time

31 Oct 2014

The confocal cross-section of a three-dimensional cyst. Image via CRTD/Andrea Meinhardt

A research group in Dresden, Germany, has demonstrated in-vitro growth of a 3D spinal cord from mouse stem cells for the first time.

Bringing us one step closer to transplanting 3D pieces of spinal cord into humans, researchers utilised the regenerative powers of Mexican salamandars in their study – humans don’t have such an ability.

Prof Elly Tanaka and her research group at the DFG Research Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden – Cluster of Excellence at the TU Dresden (CRTD) have been studying the regenerative potential of axolotls (salamandars) at a molecular level for years.

The restoration of the spinal cord in axolotls occurs in a 3D structure similar to an embryonic spinal cord. Due to their positions in the tissue, cells in the regenerated spinal cord know which function to perform in the restored tissue.

“In this study we applied the knowledge gained about the regenerative potential in axolotls to a mammal, the mouse,” said Tanaka.

Single mouse embryonic stem cells embedded in a three-dimensional matrix that were grown in a neural differentiation medium led to the clonal development of neuroepithelial cysts. These cysts settled in the midbrain and hindbrain along the neural axis.

“Our goal, however, was to generate spinal cord in vitro,” said Dr Andrea Meinhardt, a post-doctorate at the CRTD. “For this reason we added retinoic acid to the culture medium on the second day of the 3D cell culture.” The result not only caused the neural tissue to switch to spinal cord but also induced the formation of a local signalling centre for forming all the different cell types of the spinal cord.

“For the first time we could hereby reconstruct the structure of a typical embryonic neural tube in vitro,” said Meinhardt. 

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic