Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Developmental cues and persistent neurogenic potential within an in vitro neural niche

Chris Pierret13*, Jason A Morrison1, Prakash Rath1, Rachel E Zigler1, Laura A Engel1, Corinne L Fairchild1, Huidong Shi2, Joel A Maruniak1 and Mark D Kirk1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA

2 Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, University of Missouri School of Medicine, Columbia, MO 65212, USA

3 Current address: Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Guggenheim 13, Mayo Clinic, 221 4th Ave. SW, Rochester, MN 55902, USA

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BMC Developmental Biology 2010, 10:5  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-10-5

Published: 14 January 2010



Neurogenesis, the production of neural cell-types from neural stem cells (NSCs), occurs during development as well as within select regions of the adult brain. NSCs in the adult subependymal zone (SEZ) exist in a well-categorized niche microenvironment established by surrounding cells and their molecular products. The components of this niche maintain the NSCs and their definitive properties, including the ability to self-renew and multipotency (neuronal and glial differentiation).


We describe a model in vitro NSC niche, derived from embryonic stem cells, that produces many of the cells and products of the developing subventricular zone (SVZ) and adult SEZ NSC niche. We demonstrate a possible role for apoptosis and for components of the extracellular matrix in the maintenance of the NSC population within our niche cultures. We characterize expression of genes relevant to NSC self-renewal and the process of neurogenesis and compare these findings to gene expression produced by an established neural-induction protocol employing retinoic acid.


The in vitro NSC niche shows an identity that is distinct from the neurally induced embryonic cells that were used to derive it. Molecular and cellular components found in our in vitro NSC niche include NSCs, neural progeny, and ECM components and their receptors. Establishment of the in vitro NSC niche occurs in conjunction with apoptosis. Applications of this culture system range from studies of signaling events fundamental to niche formation and maintenance as well as development of unique NSC transplant platforms to treat disease or injury.