The aim of the current study was to develop an iron oxide nanoparticle (ION) labelling and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based protocol to allow visualization of the differentiation process of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into neural-like cells (NCs) in vitro. Ferucarbotran, a clinically available ION, which can be visualized under MRI, is used for tracking cells implanted in vivo. The NCs were verified morphologically and histologically by light microscopy, and their functions were verified by measuring their action potentials. Conformational conversion of axon-like structures was observed under light microscopy. These NCs exhibited frequent, active action potentials compared with cells that did not undergo neural differentiation. The labelling of ION had no influence on the morphological and functional differentiation capacity of the MSCs. We conclude that the MSCs that were differentiated into NCs exhibited in vitro activity potential firing and may be used to replace damaged neurons.
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