Embryonic stem cells; endothelial cells; Notch; Shh; signalling; Wnt
Embryonic stem (ES) cells are an invaluable model for identifying subtle phenotypes as well as severe outcomes of perturbing gene function that may otherwise result in lethality. However, though ES cells of different origins are regarded as equally pluripotent, their in vitro differentiation potential varies, suggesting that their response to developmental signals is different. The R1 cell line is widely used for gene manipulation due to its good growth characteristics and highly efficient germline transmission. Hence, we analysed the expression of Notch, Wnt and Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) pathway genes during differentiation of R1 cells into early vascular lineages. Notch-, Wnt-and Shh-mediated signalling is important during embryonic development. Regulation of gene expression through these signalling molecules is a frequently used theme, resulting in context-dependent outcomes during development. Perturbing these pathways can result in severe and possibly lethal developmental phenotypes often due to primary cardiovascular defects. We report that during early spontaneous differentiation of R1 cells, Notch-1 and the Wnt target Brachyury are active whereas the Shh receptor is not detected. This expression pattern is similar to that seen in a mouse endothelial cell line. This temporal study of expression of genes representative of all three pathways in ES cell differentiation will aid in further analysis of cell signalling during vascular development.