Tuning of beta-catenin Activity is Required to Stabilise Self-renewal of Rat Embryonic Stem Cells

Stephen Meek, Jun Wei, Linda Sutherland, Benedikt Nilges, Mia Buehr, Simon R Tomlinson, Alison J Thomson, Tom Burdon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Stabilisation of β-catenin, through inhibition of Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) activity, in conjunction with inhibition of the enzyme MEK, promotes self-renewal of naïve-type mouse embryonic stem cells (ESC). In developmentally more advanced, primed-type, epiblast stem cells (EpiSC), however, β-catenin activity induces differentiation. We investigated the response of rat ESCs to β-catenin signalling and found that when maintained on feeder-support cells in the presence of a MEK inhibitor alone (1i culture), the derivation efficiency, growth, karyotypic stability, transcriptional profile, and differentiation potential of rat ESC cultures was similar to that of cell lines established using both MEK and GSK3 inhibitors (2i culture). Equivalent mouse ESCs, by comparison, differentiated in identical 1i conditions, consistent with insufficient β-catenin activity. This interspecies difference in reliance on GSK3 inhibition corresponded with higher overall levels of β-catenin activity in rat ESCs. Indeed, rat ESCs displayed widespread expression of the mesendoderm-associated β-catenin targets, Brachyury and Cdx2 in 2i medium, and overt differentiation upon further increases in β-catenin activity. In contrast, mouse ESC were resistant to differentiation at similarly elevated doses of GSK3 inhibitor. Interestingly, without feeder support, moderate levels of GSK3 inhibition were necessary to support effective growth of rat ESC, confirming the conserved role for β-catenin in ESC self-renewal. This work identifies β-catenin signalling as a molecular rheostat in rat ESC, regulating self-renewal in a dose-dependent manner, and highlights the potential importance of controlling flux in this signalling pathway to achieve effective stabilisation of naïve pluripotency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2104-2115
Issue number10
Early online date10 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2013


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