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Stem Cells. 2012 Jun;30(6):1097-108. doi: 10.1002/stem.1078.

Human embryonic stem cells exhibit increased propensity to differentiate during the G1 phase prior to phosphorylation of retinoblastoma protein.

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Sohnis and Forman Families Center for Stem Cell and Tissue Regeneration Research, Ruth & Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, Technion, Haifa, Israel.


While experimentally induced arrest of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in G1 has been shown to stimulate differentiation, it remains unclear whether the unperturbed G1 phase in hESCs is causally related to differentiation. Here, we use centrifugal elutriation to isolate and investigate differentiation propensities of hESCs in different phases of their cell cycle. We found that isolated G1 cells exhibit higher differentiation propensity compared with S and G2 cells, and they differentiate at low cell densities even under self-renewing conditions. This differentiation of G1 cells was partially prevented in dense cultures of these cells and completely abrogated in coculture with S and G2 cells. However, coculturing without cell-to-cell contact did not rescue the differentiation of G1 cells. Finally, we show that the subset of G1 hESCs with reduced phosphorylation of retinoblastoma has the highest propensity to differentiate and that the differentiation is preceded by cell cycle arrest. These results provide direct evidence for increased propensity of hESCs to differentiate in G1 and suggest a role for neighboring cells in preventing differentiation of hESCs as they pass through a differentiation sensitive, G1 phase.

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