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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50432. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050432. Epub 2012 Nov 28.

PTK7 marks the first human developmental EMT in vitro.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America.

Abstract

Epithelial to mesenchymal transitions (EMTs) are thought to be essential to generate diversity of tissues during early fetal development, but these events are essentially impossible to study at the molecular level in vivo in humans. The first EMT event that has been described morphologically in human development occurs just prior to generation of the primitive streak. Because human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) are thought to most closely resemble cells found in epiblast-stage embryos prior to formation of the primitive streak, we sought to determine whether this first human EMT could be modeled in vitro with pluripotent stem cells. The data presented here suggest that generating embryoid bodies from hESCs or hiPSCs drives a procession of EMT events that can be observed within 24-48 hours after EB generation. These structures possess the typical hallmarks of developmental EMTs, and portions also display evidence of primitive streak and mesendoderm. We identify PTK7 as a novel marker of this EMT population, which can also be used to purify these cells for subsequent analyses and identification of novel markers of human development. Gene expression analysis indicated an upregulation of EMT markers and ECM proteins in the PTK7+ population. We also find that cells that undergo this developmental EMT retain developmental plasticity as sorting, dissociation and re-plating reestablishes an epithelial phenotype.

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