Molecular characterization of oct4-expressing yolk sac endoderm stem cell lines.
Debeb, Bisrat Godefay
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The extraembryonic endoderm (XEN) defines the yolk sac, a set of membranes that provide essential support for mammalian embryos. Recently, the committed XENprecursor was identified in the embryonic Inner Cell Mass (ICM) as a group of cells that intermingles with the closely related, anatomically indistinguishable epiblast (EPI)- precursor that gives rise to the fetus. In vitro, the EPI-precursor is represented by the well-known embryonic stem (ES) cell lines, but cell lines representing the XENprecursor are not known. Furthermore, since the XEN-precursor cells were discovered only very recently, the unexpected fact that they express the key pluripotency marker Oct4 has not been explored. Recently, however, our laboratory has isolated rat XEN cell lines that express Oct4, leading to the following two questions: (i) Do these new XEN cell lines represent XEN-precursor cells? (ii) Is their Oct4 expression regulated similarly as previously known from ES cells? These two questions are addressed here by lineage marker and reporter gene analyses. Whole culture analyses showed that rat XEN cell lines expressed markers of all XEN stages including XEN-precursor, primitive endoderm (PrE) and/or visceral endoderm (VE), and parietal endoderm (PE) but trophoectoderm and EPI-precursor markers were missing. In line with this, immunocytochemistry demonstrated heterogeneity and directly visualized the XEN-precursor, PrE/VE, and PE subpopulations. Low-density plating and time-dependent immunocytochemistry on resulting colonies strongly suggested that XEN-precursor cells generate the other XEN stages. Moreover, by analyzing single-cell derived clones, it was shown that culture heterogeneity results from the self-renewal and differentiation of a single cell. Reporter gene analyses using the 5? regulatory region of the mouse Oct4 gene revealed that a DNA fragment containing the previously described distal enhancer drove reporter gene expression only in ES cells whereas inclusion of an upstream fragment led to high expression in both mouse ES and rat XEN cells. In conclusion, our rat XEN cell lines contain XEN-precursor cells that differentiate extensively, providing for the first time an in vitro model that mimics the natural process of early XEN differentiation. In addition, they regulate Oct4 gene transcription differently than ES cells suggesting heterogeneous Oct4 regulation within the mammalian ICM.