Cell culture of human-derived neural stem cells (NSCs) is a useful tool that contributes to our understanding of human brain development and allows for the development of therapies for intractable human brain disorders. Human NSC (hNSC) cultures, however, are not commonly used, mainly because of difficulty with consistently maintaining the cells in a healthy state. In this study, we show that hNSC cultures, unlike NSCs of rodent origins, are extremely sensitive to insulin, an indispensable culture supplement, and that the previously reported difficulty in culturing hNSCs is likely because of a lack of understanding of this relationship. Like other neural cell cultures, insulin is required for hNSC growth, as withdrawal of insulin supplementation results in massive cell death and delayed cell growth. However, severe apoptotic cell death was also detected in insulin concentrations optimized to rodent NSC cultures. Thus, healthy hNSC cultures were only produced in a narrow range of relatively low insulin concentrations. Insulin-mediated cell death manifested not only in all human NSCs tested, regardless of origin, but also in differentiated human neurons. The underlying cell death mechanism at high insulin concentrations was similar to insulin resistance, where cells became less responsive to insulin, resulting in a reduction in the activation of the PI3K/Akt pathway critical to cell survival signaling.
Keywords: human neural stem cells; insulin; insulin resistance; cell apoptosis; PI3K/Akt intracellular signal