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Papers of the Week

Papers: 10 Sep 2022 - 16 Sep 2022


2022 Sep 10

Exp Neurol

Recent advances for using human induced-pluripotent stem cells as pain-in-a-dish models of neuropathic pain.


Labau J I, Andelic M, Faber CG, Waxman SG, Lauria G, Dib-Hajj S
Exp Neurol. 2022 Sep 10:114223.
PMID: 36100046.


Neuropathic pain is amongst the most common non-communicable disorders and the poor effectiveness of current treatment is an unmet need. Although pain is a universal experience, there are significant inter-individual phenotypic differences. Developing models that can accurately recapitulate the clinical pain features is crucial to better understand underlying pathophysiological mechanisms and find innovative treatments. Current data from heterologous expression systems that investigate properties of specific molecules involved in pain signaling, and from animal models, show limited success with their translation into the development of novel treatments for pain. This is in part because they do not recapitulate the native environment in which a particular molecule functions, and due to species-specific differences in the properties of several key molecules that are involved in pain signaling. The limited availability of post-mortem tissue, in particular dorsal root ganglia (DRG), has hampered research using human cells in pre-clinical studies. Human induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have emerged as an exciting alternative platform to study patient-specific diseases. Sensory neurons that are derived from iPSCs (iPSC-SNs) have provided new avenues towards elucidating peripheral pathophysiological mechanisms, the potential for development of personalized treatments, and as a cell-based system for high-throughput screening for discovering novel analgesics. Nevertheless, reprogramming and differentiation protocols to obtain nociceptors have mostly yielded immature homogenous cell populations that do not recapitulate the heterogeneity of native sensory neurons. To close the gap between native human tissue and iPSCs, alternative strategies have been developed. We will review here recent developments in differentiating iPSC-SNs and their use in pre-clinical translational studies. Direct conversion of stem cells into the cells of interest has provided a more cost- and time-saving method to improve reproducibility and diversity of sensory cell types. Furthermore, multi-cellular strategies that mimic in vivo microenvironments for cell maturation, by improving cell contact and communication (co-cultures), reproducing the organ complexity and architecture (three-dimensional organoid), and providing iPSCs with the full spatiotemporal context and nutrients needed for acquiring a mature phenotype (xenotransplantation), have led to functional sensory neuron-like systems. Finally, this review touches on novel prospective strategies, including fluorescent-tracking to select the differentiated neurons of relevance, and dynamic clamp, an electrophysiological method that allows direct manipulation of ionic conductances that are missing in iPSC-SNs.