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Dev Biol. 1995 Apr;168(2):342-57.

Embryonic stem cells express neuronal properties in vitro.

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Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells cultured as aggregates and exposed to retinoic acid are induced to express multiple phenotypes normally associated with neurons. A large percentage of treated aggregates produce a rich neuritic outgrowth. Dissociating the induced aggregates with trypsin and plating the cells as a monolayer results in cultures in which a sizable percentage of the cells have a neuronal appearance. These neuron-like cells express class III beta-tubulin and the neurofilament M subunit. Induced cultures express transcripts for neural-associated genes including the neurofilament L subunit, glutamate receptor subunits, the transcription factor Brn-3, and GFAP. Levels of neurofilament L and GAD67 and GAD65 transcripts rise dramatically upon induction. Physiological studies show that the neuron-like cells generate action potentials and express TTX-sensitive sodium channels, as well as voltage-gated potassium channels and calcium channels. We conclude that a complex system of neuronal gene expression can be activated in cultured ES cells. This system should be favorable for investigating some of the mechanisms that regulate neuronal differentiation.

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