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Development. 2017 Sep 1;144(17):3042-3053. doi: 10.1242/dev.153239. Epub 2017 Jul 31.

Morphogen and community effects determine cell fates in response to BMP4 signaling in human embryonic stem cells.

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Department of Biosciences, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005, USA.
Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Molecular Embryology, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10065, USA.
Department of Biosciences, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005, USA
Department of Bioengineering, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005, USA.


Paracrine signals maintain developmental states and create cell fate patterns in vivo and influence differentiation outcomes in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in vitro Systematic investigation of morphogen signaling is hampered by the difficulty of disentangling endogenous signaling from experimentally applied ligands. Here, we grow hESCs in micropatterned colonies of 1-8 cells ('µColonies') to quantitatively investigate paracrine signaling and the response to external stimuli. We examine BMP4-mediated differentiation in µColonies and standard culture conditions and find that in µColonies, above a threshold concentration, BMP4 gives rise to only a single cell fate, contrary to its role as a morphogen in other developmental systems. Under standard culture conditions BMP4 acts as a morphogen but this requires secondary signals and particular cell densities. We find that a 'community effect' enforces a common fate within µColonies, both in the state of pluripotency and when cells are differentiated, and that this effect allows a more precise response to external signals. Using live cell imaging to correlate signaling histories with cell fates, we demonstrate that interactions between neighbors result in sustained, homogenous signaling necessary for differentiation.


BMP4 pathway; Differentiation mechanisms; Human embryonic stem cells; Micropatterning

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