Small molecules enable neurogenin 2 to efficiently convert human fibroblasts into cholinergic neurons

Meng Lu Liu, Tong Zang, Yuhua Zou, Joshua C. Chang, Jay R. Gibson, Kimberly M. Huber, Chun Li Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

258 Scopus citations


Cell fate can be reprogrammed by modifying intrinsic and extrinsic cues. Here we show that two small molecules (forskolin and dorsomorphin) enable the transcription factor Neurogenin 2 (NGN2) to convert human fetal lung fibroblasts into cholinergic neurons with high purity (>90%) and efficiency (up to 99% of NGN2-expressing cells). The conversion is direct without passing through a proliferative progenitor state. These human induced cholinergic neurons (hiCN) show mature electrophysiological properties and exhibit motor neuron-like features, including morphology, gene expression and the formation of functional neuromuscular junctions. Inclusion of an additional transcription factor, SOX11, also efficiently converts postnatal and adult skin fibroblasts from healthy and diseased human patients to cholinergic neurons. Taken together, this study identifies a simple and highly efficient strategy for reprogramming human fibroblasts to subtype-specific neurons. These findings offer a unique venue for investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying cellular plasticity and human neurodegenerative diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2183
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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