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Concept: Martin Evans


In a recent study published in this journal it was claimed that the rate of publications from US-based authors in the human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research field was slowing or even declining from 2008 to 2010. It was assumed that this is the result of long-term effects of the Bush administration’s funding policy for hESC research and the uncertain policy environment of recent years. In the present study, we analyzed a pool of more than 1,700 original hESC research papers published world-wide from 2007 to 2011. In contrast to the previous study, our results do not support the hypothesis of a decline in the productivity of US-based research but rather confirm a nearly unchanged leading position of US research in the hESC field with respect to both publication numbers and impact of research. Moreover, we analyzed about 500 papers reporting original research involving human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) published through 2011 and found a dominant position of US research in this research field as well.

Concepts: Stem cell, Stem cells, Cell biology, Academic publishing, Embryonic stem cell, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Pluripotency, Martin Evans


Corneal epithelial homeostasis and regeneration are sustained by limbal stem cells (LSCs), and LSC deficiency is a major cause of blindness worldwide. Transplantation is often the only therapeutic option available to patients with LSC deficiency. However, while transplant success depends foremost on LSC frequency within grafts, a gene allowing for prospective LSC enrichment has not been identified so far. Here we show that ATP-binding cassette, sub-family B, member 5 (ABCB5) marks LSCs and is required for LSC maintenance, corneal development and repair. Furthermore, we demonstrate that prospectively isolated human or murine ABCB5-positive LSCs possess the exclusive capacity to fully restore the cornea upon grafting to LSC-deficient mice in xenogeneic or syngeneic transplantation models. ABCB5 is preferentially expressed on label-retaining LSCs in mice and p63α-positive LSCs in humans. Consistent with these findings, ABCB5-positive LSC frequency is reduced in LSC-deficient patients. Abcb5 loss of function in Abcb5 knockout mice causes depletion of quiescent LSCs due to enhanced proliferation and apoptosis, and results in defective corneal differentiation and wound healing. Our results from gene knockout studies, LSC tracing and transplantation models, as well as phenotypic and functional analyses of human biopsy specimens, provide converging lines of evidence that ABCB5 identifies mammalian LSCs. Identification and prospective isolation of molecularly defined LSCs with essential functions in corneal development and repair has important implications for the treatment of corneal disease, particularly corneal blindness due to LSC deficiency.

Concepts: Gene, Gene expression, Cell, Developmental biology, Epithelium, Cornea, Organ transplant, Martin Evans


Intracellular calcium signaling pathways play a major role in cellular responses such as proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis. Human embryonic stem cells (hESC) provide new possibilities to explore the development and differentiation of various cell types of the human body. Intracellular calcium responses to various ligands and the calcium signaling pathways, however, have not been thoroughly studied in embryonic stem cells and in their differentiated progenies. In our previous work we demonstrated that the use of the fluorescent calcium indicator Fluo-4 with confocal microscopy allows sensitive and reliable measurements of calcium modulation in human embryonic stem cells and stem-cell derived cardiomyocytes. Here we developed a human embryonic stem cell line stably expressing a genetically encoded Ca(2+) indicator (GCaMP2) using a transposon-based gene delivery system. We found that the differentiation properties were fully preserved in the GCaMP2-expressing hESC lines and Ca imaging could be performed without the need of toxic dye-loading of the cells. In undifferentiated hES cells the calcium signals induced by various ligands, ATP, LPA, trypsin or angiotensin II were comparable to those in Fluo-4 loaded cells. In accordance with previous findings, no calcium signal was evoked by thrombin, histamine or GABA. Cardiomyocyte colonies differentiated from hES-GCaMP2 cells could be recognized by spontaneous contractions and Ca(2+) oscillations. GCaMP2-expressing neural cells were identified based on their morphological and immuno-staining properties and Ca signals were characterized on those cells. Characteristics of both the spontaneous and ligand-induced Ca(2+) signals, as well as their pharmacological modification could be successfully examined in these model cells by fluorescence imaging.

Concepts: Neuron, Cell, Stem cell, Stem cells, Cellular differentiation, Embryonic stem cell, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Martin Evans


Wild-derived mice have contributed to experimental mouse genetics by virtue of their genetic diversity, which may help increase the chance of identifying novel modifier genes responsible for specific phenotypes and diseases. However, gene targeting using wild-derived mice has been unsuccessful because of the unavailability of stable embryonic stem cells. Here, we report that CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene targeting can be applied to the Japanese wild-derived MSM/Ms strain (Mus musculus molossinus). We targeted the nonagouti (a) gene encoding the agouti protein that is localized in hair and the brain. We obtained three homozygous knockout mice as founders, all showing black coat colour. While homozygous knockout offspring were physiologically indistinguishable from wild-type litter-mates, they showed specific domesticated behaviours: hypoactivity in the dark phase and a decline in the avoidance of a human hand. These phenotypes were consistent over subsequent generations. Our findings support the empirical hypothesis that nonagouti is a domestication-linked gene, the loss of which might repress aggressive behaviour.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Virus, Mouse, Martin Evans


The domestic pig is an excellent animal model for stem cell research and clinical medicine. There is still no suitable culture condition to generate authentic porcine embryonic stem cells (pESCs) and high quality porcine induced pluripotent stem cells (piPSCs). In this study, we found that culture conditions affected pluripotent and metabolic features of piPSCs. Using defined human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and mouse ESC (mESC) culture conditions, we generated two types of piPSCs, one of which was morphologically similar to hESCs (here called hpiPSCs), the other resembled mESCs (here called mpiPSCs). Transcriptome analysis and signaling pathway inhibition results suggested that mpiPSCs shared more of mESC signaling pathways, such as the BMP pathway and JAK/STAT pathway and hpiPSCs shared more hESC signaling pathways, such as the FGF pathway. Importantly, the mpiPSCs performed embryonic chimera incorporation more efficiently than the hpiPSCs did. In addition, the mpiPSCs showed mitochondrial features of naive ESCs and lipid droplets accumulation. These evidences may facilitate understanding of the gene regulation network and metabolism in piPSCs and promote derivation of bona fide pESCs for translational medicine.

Concepts: Stem cell, Stem cells, Cell biology, Cellular differentiation, Embryonic stem cell, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Martin Evans, Stem cell controversy


The transition from hemogenic endothelial cells (HECs) to hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HS/PCs), or endothelial to hematopoietic transition (EHT), is a critical step during hematopoiesis. However, little is known about the molecular determinants of HECs due to the challenge in defining HECs. We report here the generation of GATA2(w/eGFP) reporter in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) to mark cells expressing GATA2, a critical gene for EHT. We show that during differentiation, functional HECs are almost exclusively GATA2/eGFP(+). We then constructed a regulatory network for HEC determination and also identified a panel of positive or negative surface markers for discriminating HECs from non-hemogenic ECs. Among them, ITGB3 (CD61) precisely labeled HECs both in hESC differentiation and embryonic day 10 mouse embryos. These results not only identify a reliable marker for defining HECs, but also establish a robust platform for dissecting hematopoiesis in vitro, which might lead to the generation of HSCs in vitro.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Developmental biology, Stem cell, Cellular differentiation, Embryonic stem cell, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Martin Evans


Despite the enthusiasm for bioengineering of functional renal tissues for transplantation, many obstacles remain before the potential of this technology can be realized in a clinical setting. Viable tissue engineering strategies for the kidney require identification of the necessary cell populations, efficient scaffolds, and the 3D culture conditions to develop and support the unique architecture and physiological function of this vital organ. Our studies have previously demonstrated that decellularized sections of rhesus monkey kidneys of all age groups provide a natural extracellular matrix (ECM) with sufficient structural properties with spatial and organizational influences on human embryonic stem cell (hESC) migration and differentiation. To further explore the use of decellularized natural kidney scaffolds for renal tissue engineering, pluripotent hESC were seeded in whole- or on sections of kidney ECM and cell migration and phenotype compared with the established differentiation assays for hESC. Results of qPCR and immunohistochemical analyses demonstrated upregulation of renal lineage markers when hESC were cultured in decellularized scaffolds without cytokine or growth factor stimulation, suggesting a role for the ECM in directing renal lineage differentiation. hESC were also differentiated with growth factors and compared when seeded on renal ECM or a new biologically inert polysaccharide scaffold for further maturation. Renal lineage markers were progressively upregulated over time on both scaffolds and hESC were shown to express signature genes of renal progenitor, proximal tubule, endothelial, and collecting duct populations. These findings suggest that natural scaffolds enhance expression of renal lineage markers particularly when compared to embryoid body culture. The results of these studies show the capabilities of a novel polysaccharide scaffold to aid in defining a protocol for renal progenitor differentiation from hESC, and advance the promise of tissue engineering as a source of functional kidney tissue.

Concepts: Kidney, Stem cell, Nephron, Cellular differentiation, Organ, Embryonic stem cell, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Martin Evans


Embryonic stem cell (ESC) derivatives hold great promise for the construction of tissue-engineered skin equivalents (TESE). However, harvesting of ESCs destroys viable embryos and may lead to political and ethical concerns over their application. In the current study, we directed mouse parthenogenetic embryonic stem cells (pESCs) to differentiate into fibroblasts, constructed TESE, and evaluated its function in vivo.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Stem cell, Stem cells, Cell biology, Cellular differentiation, Embryonic stem cell, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Martin Evans


The ability to differentiate genetically modified mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells into functional macrophages provides a potentially attractive resource to study host-pathogen interactions without the need for animal experimentation. This is particularly useful in instances where the gene of interest is essential and a knockout mouse is not available. Here we differentiated mouse ES cells into macrophages in vitro and showed, through a combination of flow cytometry, microscopic imaging, and RNA-Seq, that ES cell-derived macrophages responded to S. Typhimurium, in a comparable manner to mouse bone marrow derived macrophages. We constructed a homozygous mutant mouse ES cell line in the Traf2 gene that is known to play a role in tumour necrosis factor-α signalling but has not been studied for its role in infections or response to Toll-like receptor agonists. Interestingly, traf2-deficient macrophages produced reduced levels of inflammatory cytokines in response to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or flagellin stimulation and exhibited increased susceptibility to S. Typhimurium infection.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene, Stem cell, Cell biology, Cellular differentiation, Embryonic stem cell, Martin Evans


CTG repeat expansion in DMPK, the cause of myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1), frequently results in hypermethylation and reduced SIX5 expression. The contribution of hypermethylation to disease pathogenesis and the precise mechanism by which SIX5 expression is reduced are unknown. Using 14 different DM1-affected human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines, we characterized a differentially methylated region (DMR) near the CTGs. This DMR undergoes hypermethylation as a function of expansion size in a way that is specific to undifferentiated cells and is associated with reduced SIX5 expression. Using functional assays, we provide evidence for regulatory activity of the DMR, which is lost by hypermethylation and may contribute to DM1 pathogenesis by causing SIX5 haplo-insufficiency. This study highlights the power of hESCs in disease modeling and describes a DMR that functions both as an exon coding sequence and as a regulatory element whose activity is epigenetically hampered by a heritable mutation.

Concepts: DNA, Stem cell, Cellular differentiation, Embryonic stem cell, Myotonic dystrophy, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Martin Evans, Matthew Kaufman