Background: The development of 3D cerebral organoid technology using human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) provides a promising platform to study how brain diseases are appropriately modeled and treated. So far, understanding of the characteristics of organoids is still in its infancy. The current study profiled, for the first time, the electrophysiological properties of organoids at molecular and cellular levels and dissected the potential age equivalency of 2-month-old organoids to human ones by a comparison of gene expression profiles among cerebral organoids, human fetal and adult brains. Results: Cerebral organoids exhibit heterogeneous gene and protein markers of various brain cells, such as neurons, astrocytes, and vascular cells (endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells) at 2 months, and increases in neural, glial, vascular, and channel-related gene expression over a 2-month differentiation course. Two-month organoids exhibited action potentials, multiple channel activities, and functional electrophysiological responses to the anesthetic agent propofol. A bioinformatics analysis of 20,723 gene expression profiles showed the similar distance of gene profiles in cerebral organoids to fetal and adult brain tissues. The subsequent Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA) of select canonical pathways related to neural development, network formation, and electrophysiological signaling, revealed that only calcium signaling, cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) response element-binding protein (CREB) signaling in neurons, glutamate receptor signaling, and synaptogenesis signaling were predicted to be downregulated in cerebral organoids relative to fetal samples. Nearly all cerebral organoid and fetal pathway phenotypes were predicted to be downregulated compared with adult tissue. Conclusions: This novel study highlights dynamic development, cellular heterogeneity and electrophysiological activity. In particular, for the first time, electrophysiological drug response recapitulates what occurs in vivo, and neural characteristics are predicted to be highly similar to the human brain, further supporting the promising application of the cerebral organoid system for the modeling of the human brain in health and disease. Additionally, the studies from these characterizations of cerebral organoids in multiple levels and the findings from gene comparisons between cerebral organoids and humans (fetuses and adults) help us better understand this cerebral organoid-based cutting-edge platform and its wide uses in modeling human brain in terms of health and disease, development, and testing drug efficacy and toxicity.
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