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Genesis. 2009 Sep;47(9):579-89. doi: 10.1002/dvg.20536.

Cell adhesive affinity does not dictate primitive endoderm segregation and positioning during murine embryoid body formation.

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Department of Medicine, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida 33136, USA.


The classical cell sorting experiments undertaken by Townes and Holtfreter described the intrinsic propensity of dissociated embryonic cells to self-organize and reconcile into their original embryonic germ layers with characteristic histotypic positioning. Steinberg presented the differential adhesion hypothesis to explain these patterning phenomena. Here, we have reappraised these issues by implementing embryoid bodies to model the patterning of epiblast and primitive endoderm layers. We have used combinations of embryonic stem (ES) cells and their derivatives differentiated by retinoic acid treatment to model epiblast and endoderm cells, and wild-type or E-cadherin null cells to represent strongly or weakly adherent cells, respectively. One cell type was fluorescently labeled and reconstituted with another heterotypically to generate chimeric embryoid bodies, and cell sorting was tracked by time-lapse video microscopy and confirmed by immunostaining. When undifferentiated wild-type and E-cadherin null ES cells were mixed, the resulting cell aggregates consisted of a core of wild-type cells surrounded by loosely associated E-cadherin null cells, consistent with the differential adhesion hypothesis. However, when mixed with undifferentiated ES cells, the differentiated primitive endoderm-like cells sorted to the surface to form a primitive endoderm layer irrespective of cell-adhesive strength, contradicting the differential adhesion hypothesis. We propose that the primitive endoderm cells reach the surface by random movement, and subsequently the cells generate an apical/basal polarity that prevents reentry. Thus, the ability to generate epithelial polarity, rather than adhesive affinity, determines the surface positioning of the primitive endoderm cells.

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