[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Heterogeneity is a feature of stem cell populations, resulting from innate cellular hierarchies that govern differentiation capability. How heterogeneity impacts human pluripotent stem cell populations is directly relevant to their efficacious use in regenerative medicine applications. The control of pluripotency is asserted by a core transcription factor network, of which Oct4 is a necessary member. In mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs), the zinc finger transcription factor Rex1 (Zfp42) closely tracks the undifferentiated state and is capable of segregating Oct4 positive mESCs into metastable populations expressing or lacking Rex1 that are inter-convertible. However, little is currently understood about the extent or function of heterogeneous populations in the human pluripotent compartment. Human ESCs express REX1 transcripts but the distribution and properties of REX1 expressing cells have yet to be described. To address these questions, we used gene targeting in human ESCs to insert the fluorescent protein Venus and an antibiotic selection marker under the control of the endogenous REX1 transcription regulatory elements, generating a sensitive, selectable reporter of pluripotency. REX1 is co-expressed in OCT4 and TRA-1-60 positive hESCs and rapidly lost upon differentiation. Importantly, REX1 expression reveals significant heterogeneity within seemingly homogenous populations of OCT4 and TRA-1-60 hESCs. REX1 expression is extinguished before OCT4 during differentiation, but, in contrast to the mouse, loss of REX1 expression demarcates a stable, OCT4 positive lineage-primed state in pluripotent hESCs that does not revert back to REX1 positivity under normal conditions. We show that loss of REX1 expression correlates with altered patterns of DNA methylation at the REX1 locus, implying that epigenetic mechanisms may interfere with the metastable phenotype commonly found in murine pluripotency.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The cell cycle in pluripotent stem cells is notable for the brevity of the G1 phase, permitting rapid proliferation and reducing the duration of differentiation signal sensitivity associated with the G1 phase. Changes in the length of G1 phase are understood to accompany the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), but the timing and extent of such changes are poorly defined. Understanding the early steps governing the differentiation of hESCs will facilitate better control over differentiation for regenerative medicine and drug discovery applications. Here we report the first use of real-time cell cycle reporters in hESCs. We coexpressed the chromatin-decorating H2B-GFP fusion protein and the fluorescence ubiquitination cell cycle indicator (FUCCI)-G1 fusion protein, a G1 phase-specific reporter, in hESCs to measure the cell cycle status in live cells. We found that FUCCI-G1 expression is weakly detected in undifferentiated hESCs, but rapidly increases upon differentiation. hESCs in the G1 phase display a reduction in undifferentiated colony-initiating cell function, underscoring the relationship between G1 phase residence and differentiation. Importantly, we demonstrate inter- and intracolony variation in response to chemicals that induce differentiation, implying extensive cell-cell variation in the threshold necessary to alter the G1 phase length. Finally, gain of differentiation markers appears to be coincident with G1 phase lengthening, with distinct G1 phase profiles associated with different markers of early hESC differentiation. Our data demonstrate the tight coupling of cell cycle changes to hESC differentiation, and highlight the cell cycle reporter system and assays we have implemented as a novel avenue for investigating pluripotency and differentiation.
Full-text · Article · Jul 2012 · Stem cells and development