Motor neurons loss plays a pivotal role in the pathoetiology of various debilitating diseases such as, but not limited to, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, primary lateral sclerosis, progressive muscular atrophy, progressive bulbar palsy, pseudobulbar palsy, and spinal muscular atrophy. However, advancement in motor neuron replacement therapy has been significantly constrained by the difficulties in large-scale production at a cost-effective manner. Current methods to derive motor neuron heavily rely on biochemical stimulation, chemical biological screening, and complex physical cues. These existing methods are seriously challenged by extensive time requirements and poor yields. An innovative approach that overcomes prior hurdles and enhances the rate of successful motor neuron transplantation in patients is of critical demand. Iron, a trace element, is indispensable for the normal development and function of the central nervous system. Whether ferric ions promote neuronal differentiation and subsequently promote motor neuron lineage has never been considered. Here, we demonstrate that elevated iron concentration can drastically accelerate the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) toward motor neuron lineage potentially via a transferrin mediated pathway. HB9 expression in 500 nM iron-treated hESCs is approximately twofold higher than the control. Moreover, iron treatment generated more matured and functional motor neuron-like cells that are ∼1.5 times more sensitive to depolarization when compared to the control. Our methodology renders an expedited approach to harvest motor neuron-like cells for disease, traumatic injury regeneration, and drug screening.
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