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Culture of mouse embryonic stem cells with serum but without exogenous growth factors is sufficient to generate functional hepatocyte-like cells.

PloS one (2011-08-11)
Karen Pauwelyn, Philip Roelandt, Tineke Notelaers, Pau Sancho-Bru, Johan Fevery, Catherine M Verfaillie
ABSTRACT

Mouse embryonic stem cells (mESC) have been used to study lineage specification in vitro, including towards a hepatocyte-like fate, and such investigations guided lineage differentiation protocols for human (h)ESC. We recently described a four-step protocol to induce hepatocyte-like cells from hESC which also induced hepatocyte-like cell differentiation of mouse induced pluripotent stem cells. As ESC also spontaneously generate hepatocyte-like cells, we here tested whether the growth factors and serum used in this protocol are required to commit mESC and hESC to hepatocyte-like cells. Culture of mESC from two different mouse strains in the absence of serum and growth factors did not induce primitive streak/definitive endoderm genes but induced default differentiation to neuroectoderm on day 6. Although Activin-A and Wnt3 induced primitive streak/definitive endoderm transcripts most robustly in mESC, simple addition of serum also induced these transcripts. Expression of hepatoblast genes occurred earlier when growth factors were used for mESC differentiation. However, further maturation towards functional hepatocyte-like cells was similar in mESC progeny from cultures with serum, irrespective of the addition of growth factors, and irrespective of the mouse strain. This is in contrast to hESC, where growth factors are required for specification towards functional hepatocyte-like cells. Culture of mESC with serum but without growth factors did not induce preferential differentiation towards primitive endoderm or neuroectoderm. Thus, although induction of primitive streak/definitive endoderm specific genes and proteins is more robust when mESC are exposed to a combination of serum and exogenous growth factors, ultimate generation of hepatocyte-like cells from mESC occurs equally well in the presence or absence of exogenous growth factors. The latter is in contrast to what we observed for hESC. These results suggest that differences exist between lineage specific differentiation potential of mESC and hESC, requiring optimization of different protocols for ESC from either species.

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