Rostrocaudal patterning and neural crest differentiation of human pre-neural spinal cord progenitors in vitro

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The spinal cord emerges from a niche of neuromesodermal progenitors (NMPs) formed and maintained by WNT/fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signals at the posterior end of the embryo. NMPs can be generated from human pluripotent stem cells and hold promise for spinal cord replacement therapies. However, NMPs are transient, which compromises production of the full range of rostrocaudal spinal cord identities in vitro. Here we report the generation of NMP-derived pre-neural progenitors (PNPs) with stem cell-like self-renewal capacity. PNPs maintain pre-spinal cord identity for 7-10 passages, dividing to self-renew and to make neural crest progenitors, while gradually adopting a more posterior identity by activating colinear HOX gene expression. The HOX clock can be halted through GDF11-mediated signal inhibition to produce a PNP and NC population with a thoracic identity that can be maintained for up to 30 passages.

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