Human embryonic stem (ES) cells are pluripotent cell lines that have been derived from the inner cell mass (ICM) of blastocyst stage embryos [1-3]. They are characterized by their ability to be propagated indefinitely in culture as undifferentiated cells with a normal karyotype and can be induced to differentiate in vitro into various cell types [1, 2, 4-6]. Thus, human ES cells promise to serve as an unlimited cell source for transplantation. However, these unique cell lines tend to spontaneously differentiate in culture and therefore are difficult to maintain. Furthermore, colonies may contain several cell types and may be composed of cells other than pluripotent cells [1, 2, 6]. In order to overcome these difficulties and establish lines of cells with an undifferentiated phenotype, we have introduced a reporter gene that is regulated by a promoter of an ES cell-enriched gene into the cells. For the introduction of DNA into human ES cells, we have established a specific transfection protocol that is different from the one used for murine ES cells. Human ES cells were transfected with enhanced green fluorescence protein (EGFP), under the control of murine Rex1 promoter. The transfected cells show high levels of GFP expression when in an undifferentiated state. As the cells differentiate, this expression is dramatically reduced in monolayer cultures as well as in the primitive endoderm of early stage (simple) embryoid bodies (EBs) and in mature EBs. The undifferentiated cells expressing GFP can be analyzed and sorted by using a Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorter (FACS). Thus, we have established lines of human ES cells in which only undifferentiated cells are fluorescent, and these cells can be followed and selected for in culture. We also propose that the pluripotent nature of the culture is made evident by the ability of the homogeneous cell population to form EBs. The ability to efficiently transfect human ES cells will provide the means to study and manipulate these cells for the purpose of basic and applied research.
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We would like to thank Drs. Lorraine J. Gudas and Yehudit Bergman for Rex1 sequences. The research was partially supported by funds from the Herbert Chon Chair (Hebrew University) and by a grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Fund (USA).