Cell & Bioscience (Jan 2023)

Electric field stimulation boosts neuronal differentiation of neural stem cells for spinal cord injury treatment via PI3K/Akt/GSK-3β/β-catenin activation

  • Qian Liu,
  • Vsevolod Telezhkin,
  • Wenkai Jiang,
  • Yu Gu,
  • Yan Wang,
  • Wei Hong,
  • Weiming Tian,
  • Polina Yarova,
  • Gaofeng Zhang,
  • Simon Ming-yuen Lee,
  • Peng Zhang,
  • Min Zhao,
  • Nicholas D. Allen,
  • Emilio Hirsch,
  • Josef Penninger,
  • Bing Song

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 13, no. 1
pp. 1 – 17


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Abstract Background Neural stem cells (NSCs) are considered as candidates for cell replacement therapy in many neurological disorders. However, the propensity for their differentiation to proceed more glial rather than neuronal phenotypes in pathological conditions limits positive outcomes of reparative transplantation. Exogenous physical stimulation to favor the neuronal differentiation of NSCs without extra chemical side effect could alleviate the problem, providing a safe and highly efficient cell therapy to accelerate neurological recovery following neuronal injuries. Results With 7-day physiological electric field (EF) stimulation at 100 mV/mm, we recorded the boosted neuronal differentiation of NSCs, comparing to the non-EF treated cells with 2.3-fold higher MAP2 positive cell ratio, 1.6-fold longer neuronal process and 2.4-fold higher cells ratio with neuronal spontaneous action potential. While with the classical medium induction, the neuronal spontaneous potential may only achieve after 21-day induction. Deficiency of either PI3Kγ or β-catenin abolished the above improvement, demonstrating the requirement of the PI3K/Akt/GSK-3β/β-catenin cascade activation in the physiological EF stimulation boosted neuronal differentiation of NSCs. When transplanted into the spinal cord injury (SCI) modelled mice, these EF pre-stimulated NSCs were recorded to develop twofold higher proportion of neurons, comparing to the non-EF treated NSCs. Along with the boosted neuronal differentiation following transplantation, we also recorded the improved neurogenesis in the impacted spinal cord and the significantly benefitted hind limp motor function repair of the SCI mice. Conclusions In conclusion, we demonstrated physiological EF stimulation as an efficient method to boost the neuronal differentiation of NSCs via the PI3K/Akt/GSK-3β/β-catenin activation. Pre-treatment with the EF stimulation induction before NSCs transplantation would notably improve the therapeutic outcome for neurogenesis and neurofunction recovery of SCI.