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Int J Dev Biol. 2002;46(4):449-58.

Embryonic stem cell differentiation and the analysis of mammalian development.

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Department of Molecular Biosciences and ARC Special Research Centre for the Molecular Genetics of Development, Adelaide University, South Australia, Australia.


Molecular and cellular analysis of early mammalian development is compromised by the experimental inaccessibility of the embryo. Pluripotent embryonic stem (ES) cells are derived from and retain many properties of the pluripotent founder population of the embryo, the inner cell mass. Experimental manipulation of these cells and their environment in vitro provides an opportunity for the development of differentiation systems which can be used for analysis of the molecular and cellular basis of embryogenesis. In this review we discuss strengths and weaknesses of the available ES cell differentiation methodologies and their relationship to events in vivo. Exploitation of these systems is providing novel insight into embryonic processes as diverse as cell lineage establishment, cell progression during differentiation, patterning, morphogenesis and the molecular basis for cell properties in the early mammalian embryo.

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