Cellular reprogramming using small molecules (SMs) without genetic modification provides a promising strategy for generating target cells for cell-based therapy. Human adipose-derived stem cells (hADSCs) are a desirable cell source for clinical application due to their self-renewal capacity, easy obtainability and the lack of safety concerns, such as tumor formation. However, methods to convert hADSCs into neural cells, such as neural stem cells (NSCs), are inefficient, and few if any studies have achieved efficient reprogramming of hADSCs into functional neurons. Here, we developed highly efficient induction protocols to generate NSC-like cells (iNSCs), neuron-like cells (iNs) and GABAergic neuron-like cells (iGNs) from hADSCs via SM-mediated inhibition of SMAD signaling without genetic manipulation. All induced cells adopted morphological, molecular and functional features of their bona fide counterparts. Electrophysiological data demonstrated that iNs and iGNs exhibited electrophysiological properties of neurons and formed neural networks in vitro. Microarray analysis further confirmed that iNSCs and iGNs underwent lineage switch toward a neural fate. Together, these studies provide rapid, reproducible and robust protocols for efficient generation of functional iNSCs, iNs and iGNs from hADSCs, which have utility for modeling disease pathophysiology and providing cell-therapy sources of neurological disorders.
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