We have previously shown that mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells differentiate into insulin-positive cells via multi-lineage progenitors. Here, we used Affymetrix chips and quantitative RT-PCR analysis to determine transcriptional profiles of undifferentiated wildtype (wt) and Pax4 expressing (Pax4+) ES cells and differentiated cells of committed progenitor and advanced stages. From undifferentiated to the committed stage, 237 (wt) and 263 (Pax4+) transcripts were 5- or more-fold up-regulated, whereas from the committed to the advanced stage, 28 (wt) and 5 (Pax4+) transcripts, respectively, were two- or more-fold up-regulated. Transcripts were classified into main subclasses including transcriptional regulation, signalling/growth factors, adhesion/extracellular matrix, membrane/transport, metabolism and organogenesis. Remarkably, endoderm-specific Sox17 and early pancreas-specific Isl1 transcripts were up-regulated at an earlier stage of multi-lineage progenitors, whereas highly up-regulated probe sets and transcripts of genes involved in endoderm, pancreatic, hepatic, angiogenic and neural differentiation were detected at the committed progenitor stage. Pax4+ cells showed specific differences in transcript up-regulation and a lower amount of up-regulated neural-specific transcripts in comparison to wt cells, but no enhanced gene expression complexity. Immunocytochemical analysis of selected proteins involved in endoderm and pancreatic differentiation, such as chromogranin B, transthyretin, Foxa1 and neuronatin revealed co-expression with insulin- or C-peptide-positive cells. The comparison of transcript profiles of ES cells differentiating in vitro with those of the embryonic and adult pancreas in vivo suggested that in vitro differentiated cells resemble an embryonal stage of development, supporting the view that ES-derived pancreatic cells are unable to complete pancreatic differentiation in vitro.
Mouse embryonic stem cells, transcriptional profiling, pancreatic differentiation, Pax4, Foxa1, chromogranin B, transthyretin, neuronatin