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PLoS One. 2008 Jan 9;3(1):e1422. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001422.

Gene expression profile of neuronal progenitor cells derived from hESCs: activation of chromosome 11p15.5 and comparison to human dopaminergic neurons.

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Cellular Neurobiology Research Branch, Intramural Research Program (IRP), National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Baltimore, Maryland, USA.



We initiated differentiation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) into dopamine neurons, obtained a purified population of neuronal precursor cells by cell sorting, and determined patterns of gene transcription.


Dopaminergic differentiation of hESCs was initiated by culturing hESCs with a feeder layer of PA6 cells. Differentiating cells were then sorted to obtain a pure population of PSA-NCAM-expressing neuronal precursors, which were then analyzed for gene expression using Massive Parallel Signature Sequencing (MPSS). Individual genes as well as regions of the genome which were activated were determined.


A number of genes known to be involved in the specification of dopaminergic neurons, including MSX1, CDKN1C, Pitx1 and Pitx2, as well as several novel genes not previously associated with dopaminergic differentiation, were expressed. Notably, we found that a specific region of the genome located on chromosome 11p15.5 was highly activated. This region contains several genes which have previously been associated with the function of dopaminergic neurons, including the gene for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), the rate-limiting enzyme in catecholamine biosynthesis, IGF2, and CDKN1C, which cooperates with Nurr1 in directing the differentiation of dopaminergic neurons. Other genes in this region not previously recognized as being involved in the functions of dopaminergic neurons were also activated, including H19, TSSC4, and HBG2. IGF2 and CDKN1C were also found to be highly expressed in mature human TH-positive dopamine neurons isolated from human brain samples by laser capture.


The present data suggest that the H19-IGF2 imprinting region on chromosome 11p15.5 is involved in the process through which undifferentiated cells are specified to become neuronal precursors and/or dopaminergic neurons.

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