A Combination of Culture Conditions and Gene Expression Analysis Can Be Used to Investigate and Predict hES Cell Differentiation Potential towards Male Gonadal Cells
Human embryonic stem cell differentiation towards various cell types belonging to ecto-, endo- and mesodermal cell lineages has been demonstrated, with high efficiency rates using standardized differentiation protocols. However, germ cell differentiation from human embryonic stem cells has been very inefficient so far. Even though the influence of various growth factors has been evaluated, the gene expression of different cell lines in relation to their differentiation potential has not yet been extensively examined. In this study, the potential of three male human embryonic stem cell lines to differentiate towards male gonadal cells was explored by analysing their gene expression profiles. The human embryonic stem cell lines were cultured for 14 days as monolayers on supporting human foreskin fibroblasts or as spheres in suspension, and were differentiated using BMP7, or spontaneous differentiation by omitting exogenous FGF2. TLDA analysis revealed that in the undifferentiated state, these cell lines have diverse mRNA profiles and exhibit significantly different potentials for differentiation towards the cell types present in the male gonads. This potential was associated with important factors directing the fate of the male primordial germ cells in vivo to form gonocytes, such as SOX17 or genes involved in the NODAL/ACTIVIN pathway, for example. Stimulation with BMP7 in suspension culture resulted in up-regulation of cytoplasmic SOX9 protein expression in all three lines. The observation that human embryonic stem cells differentiate towards germ and somatic cells after spontaneous and BMP7-induced stimulation in suspension emphasizes the important role of somatic cells in germ cell differentiation in vitro.