Human neural stem cells (hNSC) represent an essential source of renewable brain cells for both experimental studies and cell replacement therapies. Their relatively slow rate of proliferation and physiological senescence in culture make their use cumbersome under some experimental and pre-clinical settings. The immortalization of hNSC with the v-myc gene (v-IhNSC) has been shown to generate stem cells endowed with enhanced proliferative capacity, which greatly facilitates the study of hNSCs, both in vitro and in vivo. Despite the excellent safety properties displayed by v-IhNSCs. which do not transform in vitro and are not tumorigenic in vivo - the v-myc gene contains several mutations and recombination elements, whose role(s) and effects remains to be elucidated, yielding unresolved safety concerns. To address this issue, we used a c-myc T58A retroviral vector to establish an immortal cell line (T-IhNSC) from the same hNSCs used to generate the original v-IhNSCs and compared their characteristics with the latter, with hNSC and with hNSC immortalized using c-myc wt (c-IhNSC). T-IhNSCs displayed an enhanced self-renewal ability, with their proliferative capacity and clonogenic potential being remarkably comparable to those of v-IhNSC and higher than wild type hNSCs and c-IhNSCs. Upon growth factors removal, T-IhNSC promptly gave rise to well-differentiated neurons, astrocytes and most importantly, to a heretofore undocumented high percentage of human oligodendrocytes (up to 23%). Persistent growth-factor dependence, steady functional properties, lack of ability to generate colonies in soft-agar colony-forming assay and to establish tumors upon orthotopic transplantation, point to the fact that immortalization by c-myc T58A does not bring about tumorigenicity in hNSCs. Hence, this work describes a novel and continuous cell line of immortalized human multipotent neural stem cells, in which the immortalizing agent is represented by a single gene which, in turn, carries a single and well characterized mutation. From a different perspective, these data report on a safe approach to increase human neural stem cells propagation in culture, without altering their basic properties. These T-IhNSC line provides a versatile model for the elucidation of the mechanisms involved in human neural stem cells expansion and for development of high throughput assays for both basic and translational research on human neural cell development. The improved proclivity of T-IhNSC to generate human oligodendrocytes propose T-IhNSC as a feasible candidate for the design of experimental and, perhaps, therapeutic approaches in demyelinating diseases.
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