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Electric New Study Guides NSC Migration to Enhance Neurological Disease Therapies



Review of “Electrical Guidance of Human Stem Cells in the Rat Brain” from Stem Cells Reports by Stuart P. Atkinson

Neural stem cell (NSC) transplantation represents one of the most exciting strategies for the treatment of a wide range of neurological diseases. However, NSCs often need to migrate over long distances and through obstacle-strewn zones to reach the desired site of action, and the lack of this activity currently hampers neural stem cell therapy [1, 2].

However, an “electrifying” new study from the laboratory of Min Zhao (University of California Davis, USA) has demonstrated that applied electric fields can guide the migration of NSCs to desired sites within the brain and force them to travel against any intrinsic guidance signals [3]!

Feng et al. first optimized the electric field parameters in vitro to ensure maximal effects on guidance while also minimizing and potentially deleterious effects to the NSCs. Furthermore, the authors also confirmed that the newly developed technology employed to deliver directional electrical current to the brain did not lead to seizure activity, changes to brain activity, or significant alterations of motor function in a rat model.

To assess NSC migration, the authors tagged NSCs with a fluorescent protein and monitored movement following transplantation into the rat rostral migration stream, an active and well-defined migrational pathway. While tagged NSCs migrated in their normal direction in the absence of the electric field, NSCs moved against this direction in the presence of the electric field. Importantly, NSCs remained in their migrational target zone, survived long-term (4 months), and differentiated into neurons, astrocytes, microglia, or oligodendrocytes.

Could this “electrifying” study represent an important step towards improved NSC-based therapies for neurological disorders? The authors note that current deep brain stimulation technology and in vivo wearable electrode arrays could facilitate the application of their strategy [4, 5], and so, electrical stimulation may soon revolutionize brain stem cell therapies in human patients.


  1. Kornblum HI. Introduction to neural stem cells. Stroke 2007;38:810-816.
  2. Rakic P. Neuroscience: immigration denied. Nature 2004;427:685-686.
  3. Feng J-F, Liu J, Zhang L, et al. Electrical Guidance of Human Stem Cells in the Rat Brain. Stem Cell Reports 9:177-189.
  4. Santhanam G, Ryu SI, Yu BM, et al. A high-performance brain-computer interface. Nature 2006;442:195-198.
  5. Viventi J, Kim DH, Vigeland L, et al. Flexible, foldable, actively multiplexed, high-density electrode array for mapping brain activity in vivo. Nat Neurosci 2011;14:1599-1605.