Proper brain function relies on the precise arrangement and flow of information between diverse neural subtypes. Developing improved human cell-based models which faithfully mimic biologically relevant connectivity patterns may improve drug screening efforts given the limited success of animal models to predict safety and efficacy of therapeutics in human clinical trials. To address this need, we have developed experimental models of defined neural circuitries through the compartmentalization of neuronal cell subtypes in a 96 well plate-based platform where each microwell is divided into two compartments connected by microchannels allowing high-throughput screening (HTS) of small molecules. We demonstrate that we can generate subtype-specific excitatory and inhibitory induced neuronal cells (iNs) from human stem cell lines and that these neurons form robust functional circuits with defined connectivity. Through the use of the genetically encoded calcium indicator GCaMP6f, we monitor calcium ion transients generated during neuronal firing between and within compartments. We further demonstrate functionality of the circuit by perturbing network activity through the addition of glutamate receptor blockers using automated liquid handling. Lastly, we show that we can stimulate network activity in defined neuronal subtypes through the expression of the designer receptor exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADD) hM3Dq and application of the ligand clozapine-N-oxide (CNO). Our results demonstrate the formation of functional neural circuits in a high-throughput platform that is compatible with compound screening, representing an important step towards developing new screening platforms for studying and ultimately treating psychiatric brain disorders that arise from disordered neural circuit function.

Joseph A. Fantuzzo, Denise A. Robles, Vincent R. Mirabella, Ronald P. Hart, Zhiping P. Pang, Jeffrey D. Zahn.

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