Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Wild-type but not mutant SOD1 transgenic astrocytes promote the efficient generation of motor neuron progenitors from mouse embryonic stem cells

Yiota A Christou1*, Kyoji Ohyama3, Marysia Placzek3, Peter N Monk2 and Pamela J Shaw1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neuroscience, Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2HQ, UK

2 Department of Infection and Immunity, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2HQ, UK

3 MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics and Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2RX, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:126  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-126

Published: 17 October 2013



The efficient derivation of mature (Hb9+) motor neurons from embryonic stem cells is a sought-after goal in the understanding, and potential treatment, of motor neuron diseases. Conditions that promote the robust generation of motor neuron progenitors from embryonic stem cells and that promote the survival of differentiated motor neurons ex vivo are likely, therefore, to be critical in future biological/therapeutic/screening approaches. Previous studies have shown that astrocytes have a protective effect on differentiated motor neurons (in vivo and ex vivo), but it remains unclear whether astrocytes also play a beneficial role in the support of motor neuron progenitors. Here we explore the effect of murine astrocyte-conditioned medium on monolayer cultures of mouse embryonic stem cell-derived motor neuron progenitors.


Our data show that wild-type astrocyte-conditioned medium significantly increases the number of Olig2+/Hb9- progenitors, which subsequently differentiate into Hb9+/Islet1+ post-mitotic motor neurons. Intriguingly, while astrocyte-conditioned medium derived from mice transgenic for wild-type human SOD1 mimics the effect of wild-type astrocytes, conditioned medium derived from astrocytes carrying an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-related SOD1-G93A mutation shows no such beneficial effect. The effect of astrocyte-conditioned medium, moreover, is specific to motor neurons: we find that interneurons generated from mouse embryonic stem cells are unaffected by conditioned media from any type of astrocyte.


Our study indicates that conditioned medium derived from wild type astrocytes enhances the efficient generation of motor neurons from mouse embryonic stem cells by enhancing motor neuron progenitors. In contrast, conditioned medium from SOD1-G93A astrocytes does not show a similar enhancing effect.

ES cells; G93A astrocytes; Motor neuron; Progenitor; Differentiation; ALS