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Stem Cell Rev. 2009 Dec;5(4):353-68. doi: 10.1007/s12015-009-9099-4.

Isolation and differentiation of chondrocytic cells derived from human embryonic stem cells using dlk1/FA1 as a novel surface marker.

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  • 1Molecular Endocrinology laboratory (KMEB), Medical Biotechnology Centre, Odense University Hospital, University of South Denmark, DK-5000 Odense C, Denmark.


Few surface markers are available to monitor lineage differentiation during chondrogenesis. Recently, delta-like1/fetal antigen1 (dlk1/FA1), a transmembrane protein of the Notch/Delta/Serrata family, was shown to be essential for inducing early chondrogenesis. Thus, we investigated the possible use of dlk1/FA1 as a novel surface marker for chondroprogenitor cells during hESC differentiation. We found that, Dlk1/FA1 is expressed specifically in cells undergoing transition from proliferating to prehypertrophic chondrocytes during endochondral ossification of the mouse limb. In hESC cells, dlk1/FA1 was not expressed by undifferentiated hESC, but expressed during in vitro embryoid bodies (hEBs) formation upon down-regulation of undifferentiated markers e.g. Oct 3/4. Similarly, dlk1/FA1 was expressed in chondrocytic cells during in vivo teratoma formation. Interestingly, treatment of hEBs with Activin B, a member of TGF-ss family, markedly increased Dlk1 expression in association with up-regulation of the mesoderm-specific markers (e.g. FOXF1, KDR and VE-cadherin) and SOX9. dlk1/FA1(+) cells isolated by fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) were capable of differentiating into chondrocytic cells when cultured as micromass pellets in a xeno-free system containing TGFbeta1. In conclusion, we identified dlk1/FA1 as a novel marker of chondroprogenitor cells that undergo embryonic lineage progression from proliferation to the prehypertrophic stage. Tracking dlk1/FA1 expression as a mesoderm/chondroprogenitor surface marker provides a novel strategy for designing clinically relevant protocols to direct the differentiation of hESC into chondrocytes.

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