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Stem Cell Res. 2011 Mar;6(2):129-42. doi: 10.1016/j.scr.2010.11.001. Epub 2010 Nov 16.

A high-throughput multiplexed screening assay for optimizing serum-free differentiation protocols of human embryonic stem cells.

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Institute for Medicine and Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Serum-free differentiation protocols of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) offer the ability to maximize reproducibility and to develop clinically applicable therapies. We developed a high-throughput, 96-well plate, four-color flow cytometry-based assay to optimize differentiation media cocktails and to screen a variety of conditions. We were able to differentiate hESCs to all three primary germ layers, screen for the effect of a range of activin A, BMP4, and VEGF concentrations on endoderm and mesoderm differentiation, and perform RNA-interference (RNAi)-mediated knockdown of a reporter gene during differentiation. Cells were seeded in suspension culture and embryoid bodies were induced to differentiate to the three primary germ layers for 6 days. Endoderm (CXCR4(+)KDR(-)), mesoderm (KDR(+)SSEA-3(-)), and ectoderm (SSEA-3(+)NCAM(+)) differentiation yields for H9 cells were 80 ± 11, 78 ± 7, and 41 ± 9%, respectively. Germ layer identities were confirmed by quantitative PCR. Activin A, BMP4, and bFGF drove differentiation, with increasing concentrations of activin A inducing higher endoderm yields and increasing BMP4 inducing higher mesoderm yields. VEGF drove lateral mesoderm differentiation. RNAi-mediated knockdown of constitutively expressed red fluorescent protein did not affect endoderm differentiation. This assay facilitates the development of serum-free protocols for hESC differentiation to target lineages and creates a platform for screening small molecules or RNAi during ESC differentiation.

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