By activating a suite of genes using the gene-targeting tool CRISPR–Cas9, researchers have turned connective-tissue cells called fibroblasts directly into neurons.

Directly reprogramming cells from one identity to another could one day provide abundant material for disease research or therapies. But scientists face a technical challenge — keeping genes required for the new identity switched on for a lengthy period of time. To resolve this, Charles Gersbach at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and his colleagues used a CRISPR–Cas9-based system to activate three genes, converting mouse embryonic fibroblasts into neuronal cells and sustaining gene activation throughout the process.

The technique could provide a way to reprogram cells without having to insert genes into the genome.

Cell Stem Cell (2016)