A functional human motor unit platform engineered from human embryonic stem cells and immortalized skeletal myoblasts

Although considerable research on neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) has been conducted, the prospect of in vivo NMJ studies is limited and these studies are challenging to implement. Therefore, there is a clear unmet need to develop a feasible, robust, and physiologically relevant in vitro NMJ model.

The authors, including researchers from Vincent Mouly’s team (Myology Centre for Research from the institute) aimed to establish a novel functional human NMJs platform, which is serum and neural complex media/neural growth factor-free, using human immortalized myoblasts and human embryonic stem cells (hESCs)-derived neural progenitor cells (NPCs) that can be used to understand the mechanisms of NMJ development and degeneration.

Immortalized human myoblasts were co-cultured with hESCs derived committed NPCs. Over the course of the 7 days myoblasts differentiated into myotubes and NPCs differentiated into motor neurons.

Neuronal axon sprouting branched to form multiple NMJ innervation sites along the myotubes and the myotubes showed extensive, spontaneous contractile activity. Choline acetyltransferase and βIII-tubulin immunostaining confirmed that the NPCs had matured into cholinergic motor neurons. Postsynaptic site of NMJs was further characterized by staining dihydropyridine receptors, ryanodine receptors, and acetylcholine receptors by α-bungarotoxin.

The authors established a functional human motor unit platform for in vitro investigations. Thus, this co-culture system can be used as a novel platform for 1) drug discovery in the treatment of neuromuscular disorders, 2) deciphering vital features of NMJ formation, regulation, maintenance, and repair, and 3) exploring neuromuscular diseases, age-associated degeneration of the NMJ, muscle aging, and diabetic neuropathy and myopathy.


Abd Al Samid M, McPhee JS, Saini J, McKay TR, Fitzpatrick LM, Mamchaoui K, Bigot A, Mouly V, Butler-Browne G, Al-Shanti N. A functional human motor unit platform engineered from human embryonic stem cells and immortalized skeletal myoblasts. Stem Cells Cloning. 2018 Nov 9;11:85-93. doi: 10.2147/SCCAA.S178562. eCollection 2018