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Keywords:

  • Embryonic stem cell totipotency

Abstract

Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) self-renew indefinitely while maintaining pluripotency. The molecular mechanism underlying hESCs self-renewal and pluripotency is poorly understood. To identify the signaling pathway molecules that maintain the proliferation of hESCs, we performed a microarray analysis comparing an aneuploid H1 hESC line (named H1T) versus euploid H1 hESC line because the H1T hESC line demonstrates a self-renewal advantage while maintaining pluripotency. We find differential gene expression for the Nodal/Activin, fibroblast growth factor (FGF), Wnt, and Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathways in the H1T line, which implicates each of these molecules in maintaining the undifferentiated state, whereas the bone morphogenic protein (BMP) and Notch pathways could promote hESCs differentiation. Experimentally, we find that Activin A is necessary and sufficient for the maintenance of self-renewal and pluripotency of hESCs and supports long-term feeder and serum-free growth of hESCs. We show that Activin A induces the expression of Oct4, Nanog, Nodal, Wnt3, basic FGF, and FGF8 and suppresses the BMP signal. Our data indicates Activin A as a key regulator in maintenance of the stemness in hESCs. This finding will help elucidate the complex signaling network that maintains the hESC phenotype and function.