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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1992 Sep 1;89(17):8240-4.

Leukemia inhibitory factor is expressed by the preimplantation uterus and selectively blocks primitive ectoderm formation in vitro.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115.


Among its many activities, leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) can maintain embryonic stem cell monolayers in a pluripotent undifferentiated state. Presuming that this might reflect its physiologic role during embryogenesis, we have examined LIF expression in the embryonic environment by RNase protection assays and have determined its in vitro effect on differentiating embryonic stem cell embryoid bodies. Of all adult tissues analyzed, LIF transcripts appear only in the uterus, where their level fluctuates with the estrous cycle, peaking after ovulation. LIF expression continues in the uteri of pregnant and pseudopregnant females, with a relative peak when blastocysts are normally present. As for its effects on in vitro differentiation, we have found that LIF blocks embryoid body differentiation only partially, yet in a precise manner. Using molecular markers to follow the differentiation of defined cell types, we demonstrate that LIF selectively inhibits the formation of primitive ectoderm, while permitting the differentiation of primitive endoderm. These results suggest a specific role for LIF in preimplantation mouse development.

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