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BMC Res Notes. 2014 Apr 29;7:273. doi: 10.1186/1756-0500-7-273.

Cytotoxicity and activation of the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway in mouse embryonic stem cells treated with four GSK3 inhibitors.

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Institute of Clinical Biochemistry, Hannover Medical School, Carl-Neuberg-Str, 1, Hannover 30625, Germany.



Small membrane-permeable molecules are now widely used during maintenance and differentiation of embryonic stem cells of different species. In particular the glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) is an interesting target, since its chemical inhibition activates the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway. In the present comparative study four GSK3 inhibitors were characterized.


Cytotoxicity and potential to activate the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway were tested using the commonly used GSK3 inhibitors BIO, SB-216763, CHIR-99021, and CHIR-98014. Wnt/beta-catenin-dependent target genes were measured by quantitative PCR to confirm the Wnt-reporter assay and finally EC50-values were calculated.


CHIR-99021 and SB-216763 had the lowest toxicities in mouse embryonic stem cells and CHIR-98014 and BIO the highest toxicities. Only CHIR-99021 and CHIR-98014 lead to a strong induction of the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway, whereas BIO and SB-216763 showed a minor or no increase in activation of the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway over the natural ligand Wnt3a. The data from the Wnt-reporter assay were confirmed by gene expression analysis of the TCF/LEF regulated gene T.


Out of the four tested GSK3 inhibitors, only CHIR-99021 and CHIR-98014 proved to be potent pharmacological activators of the Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway. But only in the case of CHIR-99021 high potency was combined with very low toxicity.

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