Feeder-free monolayer cultures of human embryonic stem cells express an epithelial plasma membrane protein profile.

D. van Hoof, S.R. Braam, W. Dormeyer, D. Ward-van Oostwaard, A. Heck, J. Krijgsveld, C.L. Mummery

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are often cocultured on mitotically inactive fibroblast feeder cells to maintain their undifferentiated state. Under these growth conditions, hESCs form multilayered colonies of morphologically heterogeneous cells surrounded by flattened mesenchymal cells. In contrast, hESCs grown in feeder cell-conditioned medium on Matrigel instead tend to grow as monolayers with uniform morphology. Using mass spectrometry and immunofluorescence microscopy, we showed that hESCs under these conditions primarily express proteins belonging to epithelium-related cell-cell adhesion complexes, including adherens junctions, tight junctions, desmosomes, and gap junctions. This indicates that monolayers of hESCs cultured under feeder-free conditions retain a homogeneous epithelial phenotype similar to that of the upper central cell layer of colonies maintained on feeder cells. Notably, feeder-free hESCs also coexpressed vimentin, which is usually associated with mesenchyme, suggesting that these cells may have undergone epithelium-to-mesenchyme transitions, indicating differentiation. However, if grown on a "soft" substrate (Hydrogel), intracellular vimentin levels were substantially reduced. Moreover, when hESCs were transferred back to feeder cells, expression of vimentin was again absent from the epithelial cell population. These results imply that on tissue culture substrates, vimentin expression is most likely a stress-induced response, unrelated to differentiation. Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is found at the end of this article.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2777-2781
JournalStem Cells
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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