Human pluripotent stem cell–based (hPSC-based) replacement therapy holds great promise for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, the heterogeneity of hPSC-derived donor cells and the low yield of midbrain dopaminergic (mDA) neurons after transplantation hinder its broad clinical application. Here, we have characterized the single-cell molecular landscape during mDA neuron differentiation. We found that this process recapitulated the development of multiple but adjacent fetal brain regions including the ventral midbrain, the isthmus, and the ventral hindbrain, resulting in a heterogenous donor cell population. We reconstructed the differentiation trajectory of the mDA lineage and identified calsyntenin 2 (CLSTN2) and protein tyrosine phosphatase receptor type O (PTPRO) as specific surface markers of mDA progenitors, which were predictive of mDA neuron differentiation and could facilitate high enrichment of mDA neurons (up to 80%) following progenitor cell sorting and transplantation. Marker-sorted progenitors exhibited higher therapeutic potency in correcting motor deficits of PD mice. Different marker-sorted grafts had a strikingly consistent cellular composition, in which mDA neurons were enriched, while off-target neuron types were mostly depleted, suggesting stable graft outcomes. Our study provides a better understanding of cellular heterogeneity during mDA neuron differentiation and establishes a strategy to generate highly purified donor cells to achieve stable and predictable therapeutic outcomes, raising the prospect of hPSC-based PD cell replacement therapies.


Peibo Xu, Hui He, Qinqin Gao, Yingying Zhou, Ziyan Wu, Xiao Zhang, Linyu Sun, Gang Hu, Qian Guan, Zhiwen You, Xinyue Zhang, Wenping Zheng, Man Xiong, Yuejun Chen


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