Post-differentiation Replating of Human Pluripotent Stem Cell-derived Neurons for High-Content Screening of Neuritogenesis and Synapse Maturation

This article has been accepted and is currently in production

Abstract

Neurons differentiated in two-dimensional culture from human pluripotent stem-cell-derived neural progenitor cells (NPCs) represent a powerful model system to explore disease mechanisms and carry out high content screening (HCS) to interrogate compound libraries or identify gene mutation phenotypes. However, with human cells the transition from NPC to functional, mature neuron requires several weeks. Synapses typically start to form after 3 weeks of differentiation in monolayer culture, and several neuron-specific proteins, for example the later expressing pan-neuronal marker NeuN, or the layer 5/6 cerebral cortical neuron marker CTIP2, begin to express around 4-5 weeks post-differentiation. This lengthy differentiation time can be incompatible with optimal culture conditions used for small volume, multi-well HCS platforms. Among the many challenges are the need for well-adhered, uniformly distributed cells with minimal cell clustering, and culture procedures that foster long-term viability and functional synapse maturation. One approach is to differentiate neurons in a large volume format, then replate them at a later time point in HCS-compatible multi-wells. Some main challenges when using this replating approach concern reproducibility and cell viability, due to the stressful disruption of the dendritic and axonal network. Here we demonstrate a detailed and reliable procedure for enzymatically resuspending human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived neurons after their differentiation for 4-8 weeks in a large-volume format, transferring them to 384-well microtiter plates, and culturing them for a further 1-3 weeks with excellent cell survival. This replating of human neurons not only allows the study of synapse assembly and maturation within two weeks from replating, but also enables studies of neurite regeneration and growth cone characteristics. We provide examples of scalable assays for neuritogenesis and synaptogenesis using a 384-well platform.