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Stem Cell Res. 2018 Jul;30:85-95. doi: 10.1016/j.scr.2018.05.016. Epub 2018 May 22.

Inverse agonism of retinoic acid receptors directs epiblast cells into the paraxial mesoderm lineage.

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Department of Reconstructive Sciences, School of Dental Medicine, University of Connecticut Health Center, United States.
Department of Reconstructive Sciences, School of Dental Medicine, University of Connecticut Health Center, United States. Electronic address:


We have investigated the differentiation of paraxial mesoderm from mouse embryonic stem cells utilizing a Tbx6-EYFP/Brachyury (T)-Cherry dual reporter system. Differentiation from the mouse ESC state directly into mesoderm via Wnt pathway activation was low, but augmented by treatment with AGN193109, a pan-retinoic acid receptor inverse agonist. After five days of differentiation, T+ cells increased from 12.2% to 18.8%, Tbx6+ cells increased from 5.8% to 12.7%, and T+/Tbx6+ cells increased from 2.4% to 14.1%. The synergism of AGN193109 with Wnt3a/CHIR99021 was further substantiated by the increased expression of paraxial mesoderm gene markers Tbx6, Msgn1, Meox1, and Hoxb1. Separate to inverse agonist treatment, when mouse ESCs were indirectly differentiated into mesoderm via a transient epiblast step the efficiency of paraxial mesoderm formation markedly increased. Tbx6+ cells represented 65-75% of the total cell population after just 3 days of differentiation and the expression of paraxial mesoderm marker genes Tbx6 and Msgn increased over 100-fold and 300-fold, respectively. Further evaluation of AGN193109 treatment on the indirect differentiation protocol suggested that RARs have two distinct roles. First, AGN193109 treatment at the epiblast step and mesoderm step promoted paraxial mesoderm formation over other mesoderm and endoderm lineage types. Second, continued treatment during mesoderm formation revealed its ability to repress the maturation of presomitic mesoderm into somitic paraxial mesoderm. Thus, the continuous treatment of AGN193109 during epiblast and mesoderm differentiation steps yielded a culture where ~90% of the cells were Tbx6+. The surprisingly early effect of inverse agonist treatment at the epiblast step of differentiation led us to further examine the effect of AGN193109 treatment during an extended epiblast differentiation protocol. Interestingly, while inverse agonist treatment had no impact on the conversion of ESCs into epiblast cells based on the expression of Rex1, Fgf5, and pluripotency marker genes Oct4, Nanog, and Sox2, after three days of differentiation in the presence of AGN193109 caudal epiblast and early paraxial mesoderm marker genes, T, Cyp26a1, Fgf8, Tbx6 and Msgn were all highly up-regulated. Collectively, our studies reveal an earlier than appreciated role for RARs in epiblast cells and the modulation of their function via inverse agonist treatment can promote their differentiation into the paraxial mesoderm lineage.


Axial skeleton; Embryonic stem cell; Epiblast; Paraxial mesoderm; Retinoic acid

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