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Stem Cells. 2006 Mar;24(3):568-74. Epub 2005 Nov 10.

Basic fibroblast growth factor support of human embryonic stem cell self-renewal.

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WiCell Research Institute, P.O. Box 7365, Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7365, USA.


Human embryonic stem (ES) cells have most commonly been cultured in the presence of basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF2) either on fibroblast feeder layers or in fibroblast-conditioned medium. It has recently been reported that elevated concentrations of FGF2 permit the culture of human ES cells in the absence of fibroblasts or fibroblast-conditioned medium. Herein we compare the ability of unconditioned medium (UM) supplemented with 4, 24, 40, 80, 100, and 250 ng/ml FGF2 to sustain low-density human ES cell cultures through multiple passages. In these stringent culture conditions, 4, 24, and 40 ng/ml FGF2 failed to sustain human ES cells through three passages, but 100 ng/ml sustained human ES cells with an effectiveness comparable to conditioned medium (CM). Two human ES cell lines (H1 and H9) were maintained for up to 164 population doublings (7 and 4 months) in UM supplemented with 100 ng/ml FGF2. After prolonged culture, the cells formed teratomas when injected into severe combined immunodeficient beige mice and expressed markers characteristic of undifferentiated human ES cells. We also demonstrate that FGF2 is degraded more rapidly in UM than in CM, partly explaining the need for higher concentrations of FGF2 in UM. These results further facilitate the large-scale, routine culture of human ES cells and suggest that fibroblasts and fibro-blast-conditioned medium sustain human ES cells in part by stabilizing FGF signaling above a critical threshold.

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