Preimplantation Human Embryos and Embryonic Stem Cells Show Comparable Expression of Stage-Specific Embryonic Antigens



Cell-surface antigens provide invaluable tools for the identification of cells and for the analysis of cell differentiation. In particular, stage-specific embryonic antigens that are developmentally regulated during early embryogenesis are widely used as markers to monitor the differentiation of both mouse and human embryonic stem (ES) cells and their malignant counterparts, embryonic carcinoma (EC) cells. However, there are notable differences in the expression patterns of some such markers between human and mouse ES/EC cells, and hitherto it has been unclear whether this indicates significant differences between human and mouse embryos, or whether ES/EC cells correspond to distinct cell types within the early embryos of each species. We now show that human ES cells are characterized by the expression of the cell-surface antigens, SSEA3, SSEA4, TRA-1-60, and TRA-1-81, and by the lack of SSEA1, and that inner cell mass cells of the human blastocyst express a similar antigen profile, in contrast to the corresponding cells of the mouse embryo.