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Development. 2010 Mar;137(6):881-90. doi: 10.1242/dev.043117.

Retinoic acid orchestrates fibroblast growth factor signalling to drive embryonic stem cell differentiation.

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Neural Development Group, Division of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Dundee, Dow Street, Dundee DD1 5EH, UK.


Embryonic stem (ES) cells fluctuate between self-renewal and the threshold of differentiation. Signalling via the fibroblast growth factor (Fgf)/Erk pathway is required to progress from this dynamic state and promote mouse ES cell differentiation. Retinoic acid also induces differentiation in many cellular contexts, but its mechanism of action in relation to Fgf/Erk signalling in ES cells is poorly understood. Here, we show for the first time that endogenous retinoid signalling is required for the timely acquisition of somatic cell fate in mouse ES cells and that exposure to retinoic acid advances differentiation by a dual mechanism: first increasing, but in the long-term decreasing, Fgf signalling. Rapid retinoid induction of Fgf8 and downstream Erk activity on day 1 in differentiation conditions may serve to ensure loss of self-renewal. However, more gradual repression of Fgf4 by retinoic acid is accompanied by an overall reduction in Erk activity on day 2, and the acquisition of neural and non-neural fates is now advanced by inhibition of Fgf signalling. So, although blocking Fgf/Erk activity is known to promote ES cell self-renewal, once cells have experienced a period of such signals, subsequent inhibition of Fgf signalling has the opposite effect and drives differentiation. We further show in the embryo that retinoid repression of Fgf signalling promotes neural differentiation onset in an analogous step in the extending embryonic body axis and so identify attenuation of Fgf signalling by retinoic acid as a conserved fundamental mechanism driving differentiation towards somatic cell fates.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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