Mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) are clonal populations derived from preimplantation mouse embryos that can be propagated in vitro and, when placed into blastocysts, contribute to all tissues of the embryo and integrate into the normal morphogenetic processes, i.e. they are pluripotent. However, although they can be steered to differentiate in vitro into all cell types of the organism, they cannot organise themselves into structures that resemble embryos. When aggregated into embryoid bodies they develop disorganised masses of different cell types with little spatial coherence. An exception to this rule is the emergence of retinas and anterior cortex-like structures under minimal culture conditions. These structures emerge from the cultures without any axial organisation. Here, we report that small aggregates of mESCs, of about 300 cells, self-organise into polarised structures that exhibit collective behaviours reminiscent of those that cells exhibit in early mouse embryos, including symmetry breaking, axial organisation, germ layer specification and cell behaviour, as well as axis elongation. The responses are signal specific and uncouple processes that in the embryo are tightly associated, such as specification of the anteroposterior axis and anterior neural development, or endoderm specification and axial elongation. We discuss the meaning and implications of these observations and the potential uses of these structures which, because of their behaviour, we suggest to call 'gastruloids'.
Single/selective-plane illumination, or light-sheet, systems offer several advantages over other fluorescence microscopy methods for live, 3D microscopy. These systems are valuable for studying embryonic development in several animal systems, such as Drosophila, C. elegans and zebrafish. The geometry of the light path in this form of microscopy requires the sample to be accessible from multiple sides and fixed in place so that it can be rotated around a single axis. Popular methods for mounting include hanging the specimen from a pin or embedding it in 1-2% agarose. These methods can be particularly problematic for certain samples, such as post-implantation mouse embryos, that expand significantly in size and are very delicate and sensitive to mounting. To overcome the current limitations and to establish a robust strategy for long-term (24?h) time-lapse imaging of E6.5-8.5 mouse embryos with light-sheet microscopy, we developed and tested a method using hollow agarose cylinders designed to accommodate for embryonic growth, yet provide boundaries to minimize tissue drift and enable imaging in multiple orientations. Here, we report the first 24-h time-lapse sequences of post-implantation mouse embryo development with light-sheet microscopy. We demonstrate that light-sheet imaging can provide both quantitative data for tracking changes in morphogenesis and reveal new insights into mouse embryogenesis. Although we have used this approach for imaging mouse embryos, it can be extended to imaging other types of embryos as well as tissue explants.
The first lineage choice in mammalian embryogenesis is that between the trophectoderm, which gives rise to the trophoblast of the placenta, and the inner cell mass, from which is derived the embryo proper and the yolk sac. The establishment of these lineages is preceded by the inside-versus-outside positioning of cells in the early embryo and stochastic expression of key transcription factors, which is then resolved into lineage-restricted expression. The regulatory inputs that drive this restriction and how they relate to cell position are largely unknown. Here, we show an unsuspected role of Notch signaling in regulating trophectoderm-specific expression of Cdx2 in cooperation with TEAD4. Notch activity is restricted to outer cells and is able to influence positional allocation of blastomeres, mediating preferential localization to the trophectoderm. Our results show that multiple signaling inputs at preimplantation stages specify the first embryonic lineages.
The use of genetically encoded fluorescent proteins has revolutionized the fields of cell and developmental biology and redefined our understanding of the dynamic morphogenetic processes that work to shape the embryo. Fluorescent proteins are routinely used as vital reporters to label tissues, cells, cellular organelles, or proteins of interest and in doing so provide contrasting agents enabling the acquisition of high-resolution quantitative image data. With the advent of more accessible and sophisticated imaging technologies and abundance of fluorescent proteins with different spectral characteristics, the dynamic processes taking place in situ in living embryos can now be probed. Here, we provide an overview of some recent advances in this rapidly evolving field.
SUMMARY Over the past two decades, our understanding of mouse development from implantation to gastrulation has grown exponentially with an upsurge of genetic, molecular, cellular, and morphogenetic information. New discoveries have exalted the role of extraembryonic tissues in orchestrating embryonic patterning and axial specification. At the same time, the identification of unexpected morphogenetic processes occurring during mouse gastrulation has challenged established dogmas and brought new insights into the mechanisms driving germ layer formation. In this article, we summarize the key findings that have reinvigorated the contemporary view of early postimplantation mammalian development.
Pluripotent embryonic stem cells (ESCs) can be derived from blastocyst-stage mouse embryos. However, the exact in vivo counterpart of ESCs has remained elusive. A combination of expression profiling and stem cell derivation identifies epiblast cells from late-stage blastocysts as the source, and functional equivalent, of ESCs.
A central unresolved question in the molecular cascade that drives establishment of left-right (LR) asymmetry in vertebrates are the mechanisms deployed to relay information between the midline site of symmetry-breaking and the tissues which will execute a program of asymmetric morphogenesis. The cells located between these two distant locations must provide the medium for signal relay. Of these, the gut endoderm is an attractive candidate tissue for signal transmission since it comprises the epithelium that lies between the node, where asymmetry originates, and the lateral plate, where asymmetry can first be detected. Here, focusing on the mouse as a model, we review our current understanding and entertain open questions concerning the relay of LR information from its origin.
Cells of the inner cell mass (ICM) of the mouse blastocyst differentiate into the pluripotent epiblast or the primitive endoderm (PrE), marked by the transcription factors NANOG and GATA6, respectively. To investigate the mechanistic regulation of this process, we applied an unbiased, quantitative, single-cell-resolution image analysis pipeline to analyze embryos lacking or exhibiting reduced levels of GATA6. We find that Gata6 mutants exhibit a complete absence of PrE and demonstrate that GATA6 levels regulate the timing and speed of lineage commitment within the ICM. Furthermore, we show that GATA6 is necessary for PrE specification by FGF signaling and propose a model where interactions between NANOG, GATA6, and the FGF/ERK pathway determine ICM cell fate. This study provides a framework for quantitative analyses of mammalian embryos and establishes GATA6 as a nodal point in the gene regulatory network driving ICM lineage specification.
Segmentation is a fundamental problem that dominates the success of microscopic image analysis. In almost 25 years of cell detection software development, there is still no single piece of commercial software that works well in practice when applied to early mouse embryo or stem cell image data. To address this need, we developed MINS (modular interactive nuclear segmentation) as a MATLAB/C++-based segmentation tool tailored for counting cells and fluorescent intensity measurements of 2D and 3D image data. Our aim was to develop a tool that is accurate and efficient yet straightforward and user friendly. The MINS pipeline comprises three major cascaded modules: detection, segmentation, and cell position classification. An extensive evaluation of MINS on both 2D and 3D images, and comparison to related tools, reveals improvements in segmentation accuracy and usability. Thus, its accuracy and ease of use will allow MINS to be implemented for routine single-cell-level image analyses.
The transmembrane receptor Notch1 is a critical regulator of arterial differentiation and blood vessel sprouting. Recent evidence shows that functional blockade of Notch1 and its ligand, Dll4, leads to postnatal lymphatic defects in mice. However, the precise role of the Notch signaling pathway in lymphatic vessel development has yet to be defined. Here we show the developmental role of Notch1 in lymphatic vascular morphogenesis by analyzing lymphatic endothelial cell (LEC)-specific conditional Notch1 knockout mice crossed with an inducible Prox1CreER(T2) driver.
Detailed knowledge of cell surface proteins present during early embryonic development remains limited for most cell lineages. Due to the relevance of cell surface proteins in their functional roles controlling cell signaling and their utility as accessible, nongenetic markers for cell identification and sorting, the goal of this study was to provide new information regarding the cell surface proteins present during early mouse embryonic development.
Mixl1 is the only member of the Mix/Bix homeobox gene family identified in mammals. During mouse embryogenesis, Mixl1 is first expressed at embryonic day (E)5.5 in cells of the visceral endoderm (VE). At the time of gastrulation, Mixl1 expression is detected in the vicinity of the primitive streak. Mixl1 is expressed in cells located within the primitive streak, in nascent mesoderm cells exiting the primitive streak, and in posterior VE overlying the primitive streak. Genetic ablation of Mixl1 in mice has revealed its crucial role in mesoderm and endoderm cell specification and tissue morphogenesis during early embryonic development. However, the early lethality of the constitutive Mixl1(-/-) mutant precludes the study of its role at later stages of embryogenesis and in adult mice. To circumvent this limitation, we have generated a conditional Mixl1 allele (Mixl1(cKO) that permits temporal as well as spatial control of gene ablation. Animals homozygous for the Mixl1(cKO) conditional allele were viable and fertile. Mixl1(KO/KO) embryos generated by crossing of Mixl1(cKO/cKO) mice with Sox2-Cre or EIIa-Cre transgenic mice were embryonic lethal at early somite stages. By contrast to wild-type embryos, Mixl1(KO/KO) embryos contained no detectable Mixl1, validating the Mixl1(cKO) as a protein null after Cre-mediated excision. Mixl1(KO/KO) embryos resembled the previously reported Mixl1(-/-) mutant phenotype. Therefore, the Mixl1 cKO allele provides a tool for investigating the temporal and tissue-specific requirements for Mixl1 in the mouse.
Mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) are key tools for genetic engineering, development of stem cell-based therapies and basic research on pluripotency and early lineage commitment. However, successful derivation of germline-competent embryonic stem cell lines has, until recently, been limited to a small number of inbred mouse strains. Recently, there have been considerable advances in the field of embryonic stem cell biology, particularly in the area of pluripotency maintenance in the epiblast from which the mESCs are derived. Here we describe a protocol for efficient derivation of germline-competent mESCs from any mouse strain, including strains previously deemed nonpermissive. We provide a protocol that is generally applicable to most inbred strains, as well as a variant for nonpermissive strains. By using this protocol, mESCs can be derived in 3 weeks and fully characterized after an additional 12 weeks, at efficiencies as high as 90% and in any strain background.
The transcription factor Oct4 is required in vitro for establishment and maintenance of embryonic stem cells and for reprogramming somatic cells to pluripotency. In vivo, it prevents the ectopic differentiation of early embryos into trophoblast. Here, we further explore the role of Oct4 in blastocyst formation and specification of epiblast versus primitive endoderm lineages using conditional genetic deletion. Experiments involving mouse embryos deficient for both maternal and zygotic Oct4 suggest that it is dispensable for zygote formation, early cleavage and activation of Nanog expression. Nanog protein is significantly elevated in the presumptive inner cell mass of Oct4 null embryos, suggesting an unexpected role for Oct4 in attenuating the level of Nanog, which might be significant for priming differentiation during epiblast maturation. Induced deletion of Oct4 during the morula to blastocyst transition disrupts the ability of inner cell mass cells to adopt lineage-specific identity and acquire the molecular profile characteristic of either epiblast or primitive endoderm. Sox17, a marker of primitive endoderm, is not detected following prolonged culture of such embryos, but can be rescued by provision of exogenous FGF4. Interestingly, functional primitive endoderm can be rescued in Oct4-deficient embryos in embryonic stem cell complementation assays, but only if the host embryos are at the pre-blastocyst stage. We conclude that cell fate decisions within the inner cell mass are dependent upon Oct4 and that Oct4 is not cell-autonomously required for the differentiation of primitive endoderm derivatives, as long as an appropriate developmental environment is established.
Tetraploid complementation is often used to produce mice from embryonic stem cells (ESCs) by injection of diploid (2n) ESCs into tetraploid (4n) blastocysts (ESC-derived mice). This method has also been adapted to mouse cloning and the derivation of mice from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. However, the underlying mechanism(s) of the tetraploid complementation remains largely unclear. Whether this approach can give rise to completely ES cell-derived mice is an open question, and has not yet been unambiguously proven. Here, we show that mouse tetraploid blastocysts can be classified into two groups, according to the presence or absence of an inner cell mass (ICM). We designate these as type a (presence of ICM at blastocyst stage) or type b (absence of ICM). ESC lines were readily derived from type a blastocysts, suggesting that these embryos retain a pluripotent epiblast compartment; whereas the type b blastocysts possessed very low potential to give rise to ESC lines, suggesting that they had lost the pluripotent epiblast. When the type a blastocysts were used for tetraploid complementation, some of the resulting mice were found to be 2n/4n chimeric; whereas when type b blastocysts were used as hosts, the resulting mice are all completely ES cell-derived, with the newborn pups displaying a high frequency of abdominal hernias. Our results demonstrate that completely ES cell-derived mice can be produced using ICM-deficient 4n blastocysts, and provide evidence that the exclusion of tetraploid cells from the fetus in 2n/4n chimeras can largely be attributed to the formation of ICM-deficient blastocysts.
During embryonic development signalling pathways act repeatedly in different contexts to pattern the emerging germ layers. Understanding how these different responses are regulated is a central question for developmental biology. In this study, we used mouse embryonic stem cell (mESC) differentiation to uncover a new mechanism for PI3K signalling that is required for endoderm specification. We found that PI3K signalling promotes the transition from naïve endoderm precursors into committed anterior endoderm. PI3K promoted commitment via an atypical activity that delimited epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Akt1 transduced this activity via modifications to the extracellular matrix (ECM) and appropriate ECM could itself induce anterior endodermal identity in the absence of PI3K signalling. PI3K/Akt1-modified ECM contained low levels of Fibronectin (Fn1) and we found that Fn1 dose was key to specifying anterior endodermal identity in vivo and in vitro. Thus, localized PI3K activity affects ECM composition and ECM in turn patterns the endoderm. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00806.001.
Wnt/?-catenin signaling is a central regulator of adult stem cells. Variable sensitivity of Wnt reporter transgenes, ?-catenins dual roles in adhesion and signaling, and hair follicle degradation and inflammation resulting from broad deletion of epithelial ?-catenin have precluded clear understanding of Wnt/?-catenins functions in adult skin stem cells. By inducibly deleting ?-catenin globally in skin epithelia, only in hair follicle stem cells, or only in interfollicular epidermis and comparing the phenotypes with those caused by ectopic expression of the Wnt/?-catenin inhibitor Dkk1, we show that this pathway is necessary for hair follicle stem cell proliferation. However, ?-catenin is not required within hair follicle stem cells for their maintenance, and follicles resume proliferating after ectopic Dkk1 has been removed, indicating persistence of functional progenitors. We further unexpectedly discovered a broader role for Wnt/?-catenin signaling in contributing to progenitor cell proliferation in nonhairy epithelia and interfollicular epidermis under homeostatic, but not inflammatory, conditions.
The ureteric bud is an epithelial tube that undergoes branching morphogenesis to form the renal collecting system. Although development of a normal kidney depends on proper ureteric bud morphogenesis, the cellular events underlying this process remain obscure. Here, we used time-lapse microscopy together with several genetic labeling methods to observe ureteric bud cell behaviors in developing mouse kidneys. We observed an unexpected cell behavior in the branching tips of the ureteric bud, which we term "mitosis-associated cell dispersal." Premitotic ureteric tip cells delaminate from the epithelium and divide within the lumen; although one daughter cell retains a basal process, allowing it to reinsert into the epithelium at the site of origin, the other daughter cell reinserts at a position one to three cell diameters away. Given the high rate of cell division in ureteric tips, this cellular behavior causes extensive epithelial cell rearrangements that may contribute to renal branching morphogenesis.
The activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID; also known as AICDA) enzyme is required for somatic hypermutation and class switch recombination at the immunoglobulin locus. In germinal-centre B cells, AID is highly expressed, and has an inherent mutator activity that helps generate antibody diversity. However, AID may also regulate gene expression epigenetically by directly deaminating 5-methylcytosine in concert with base-excision repair to exchange cytosine. This pathway promotes gene demethylation, thereby removing epigenetic memory. For example, AID promotes active demethylation of the genome in primordial germ cells. However, different studies have suggested either a requirement or a lack of function for AID in promoting pluripotency in somatic nuclei after fusion with embryonic stem cells. Here we tested directly whether AID regulates epigenetic memory by comparing the relative ability of cells lacking AID to reprogram from a differentiated murine cell type to an induced pluripotent stem cell. We show that Aid-null cells are transiently hyper-responsive to the reprogramming process. Although they initiate expression of pluripotency genes, they fail to stabilize in the pluripotent state. The genome of Aid-null cells remains hypermethylated in reprogramming cells, and hypermethylated genes associated with pluripotency fail to be stably upregulated, including many MYC target genes. Recent studies identified a late step of reprogramming associated with methylation status, and implicated a secondary set of pluripotency network components. AID regulates this late step, removing epigenetic memory to stabilize the pluripotent state.
It is now recognized that extensive expression heterogeneities among cells precede the emergence of lineages in the early mammalian embryo. To establish a map of pluripotent epiblast (EPI) versus primitive endoderm (PrE) lineage segregation within the inner cell mass (ICM) of the mouse blastocyst, we characterized the gene expression profiles of individual ICM cells. Clustering analysis of the transcriptomes of 66 cells demonstrated that initially they are non-distinguishable. Early in the segregation, lineage-specific marker expression exhibited no apparent correlation, and a hierarchical relationship was established only in the late blastocyst. Fgf4 exhibited a bimodal expression at the earliest stage analysed, and in its absence, the differentiation of PrE and EPI was halted, indicating that Fgf4 drives, and is required for, ICM lineage segregation. These data lead us to propose a model where stochastic cell-to-cell expression heterogeneity followed by signal reinforcement underlies ICM lineage segregation by antagonistically separating equivalent cells.
Reciprocal inductive interactions between the embryonic and extraembryonic tissues establish the anterior-posterior (AP) axis of the early mouse embryo. The anterior visceral endoderm (AVE) signaling center emerges at the distal tip of the embryo at embryonic day 5.5 and translocates to the prospective anterior side of the embryo. The process of AVE induction and migration are poorly understood. Here we demonstrate that the T-box gene Eomesodermin (Eomes) plays an essential role in AVE recruitment, in part by directly activating the homeobox transcription factor Lhx1. Thus, Eomes function in the visceral endoderm (VE) initiates an instructive transcriptional program controlling AP identity.
Advances in optical imaging technologies combined with the use of genetically encoded fluorescent proteins have enabled the visualization of stem cells over extensive periods of time in vivo and ex vivo. The generation of genetically encoded fluorescent protein reporters that are fused with subcellularly localized proteins, such as human histone H2B, has made it possible to direct fluorescent protein reporters to specific subcellular structures and identify single cells in complex populations. This facilitates the visualization of cellular behaviors such as division, movement, and apoptosis at a single-cell resolution and, in principle, allows the prospective and retrospective tracking towards determining the lineage of each cell.
At the time of implantation in the maternal uterus, the mouse blastocyst possesses an inner cell mass comprising two lineages: epiblast (Epi) and primitive endoderm (PrE). Representative stem cells derived from these two cell lineages can be expanded and maintained indefinitely in vitro as either embryonic stem (ES) or XEN cells, respectively. Here we describe protocols that can be used to establish XEN cell lines. These include the establishment of XEN cells from blastocyst-stage embryos in either standard embryonic or trophoblast stem (TS) cell culture conditions. We also describe protocols for establishing XEN cells directly from ES cells by either retinoic acid and activin-based conversion or by overexpression of the GATA transcription factor Gata6. XEN cells are a useful model of PrE cells, with which they share gene expression, differentiation potential and lineage restriction. The robust protocols for deriving XEN cells described here can be completed within 2-3 weeks.
Live imaging provides an essential methodology for understanding complex and dynamic cell behaviors and their underlying molecular mechanisms. Genetically-encoded reporter expressing mouse strains are an important tool for use in live imaging experiments. Such reporter strains can be engineered by placing cis-regulatory elements of interest to direct the expression of desired reporter genes. If these cis-regulatory elements are downstream targets, and thus activated as a consequence of signaling pathway activation, such reporters can provide read-outs of the signaling status of a cell. The Notch signaling pathway is an evolutionary conserved pathway operating in multiple developmental processes as well as being the basis for several congenital diseases. The transcription factor CBF1 is a central evolutionarily conserved component of the Notch signaling pathway. It binds the active form of the Notch receptor (NICD) and subsequently binds to cis-regulatory regions (CBF1 binding sites) in the promoters of Notch responsive genes. In this way, CBF1 binding sites represent a good target for the design of a Notch signaling reporter.
At the end of the preimplantation period, the inner cell mass (ICM) of the mouse blastocyst is composed of two distinct cell lineages, the pluripotent epiblast (EPI) and the primitive endoderm (PrE). The current model for their formation involves initial co-expression of lineage-specific markers followed by mutual-exclusive expression resulting in a salt-and-pepper distribution of lineage precursors within the ICM. Subsequent to lineage commitment, cell rearrangements and selective apoptosis are thought to be key processes driving and refining the emergence of two spatially distinct compartments. Here, we have addressed a role for Platelet Derived Growth Factor (PDGF) signaling in the regulation of programmed cell death during early mouse embryonic development. By combining genetic and pharmacological approaches, we demonstrate that embryos lacking PDGF activity exhibited caspase-dependent selective apoptosis of PrE cells. Modulating PDGF activity did not affect lineage commitment or cell sorting, suggesting that PDGF is involved in the fine-tuning of patterning information. Our results also indicate that PDGF and fibroblast growth factor (FGF) tyrosine kinase receptors exert distinct and non-overlapping functions in PrE formation. Taken together, these data uncover an early role of PDGF signaling in PrE cell survival at the time when PrE and EPI cells are segregated.
The maintenance of pluripotency in mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) relies on the activity of a transcriptional network that is fuelled by the activity of three transcription factors (Nanog, Oct4 and Sox2) and balanced by the repressive activity of Tcf3. Extracellular signals modulate the activity of the network and regulate the differentiation capacity of the cells. Wnt/?-catenin signaling has emerged as a significant potentiator of pluripotency: increases in the levels of ?-catenin regulate the activity of Oct4 and Nanog, and enhance pluripotency. A recent report shows that ?-catenin achieves some of these effects by modulating the activity of Tcf3, and that this effect does not require its transcriptional activation domain. Here, we show that during self-renewal there is negligible transcriptional activity of ?-catenin and that this is due to its tight association with membranes, where we find it in a complex with Oct4 and E-cadherin. Differentiation triggers a burst of Wnt/?-catenin transcriptional activity that coincides with the disassembly of the complex. Our results establish that ?-catenin, but not its transcriptional activity, is central to pluripotency acting through a ?-catenin/Oct4 complex.
The preimplantation period of mouse early embryonic development is devoted to the specification of two extraembryonic tissues and their spatial segregation from the pluripotent epiblast. During this period two cell fate decisions are made while cells gradually lose their totipotency. The first fate decision involves the segregation of the extraembryonic trophectoderm (TE) lineage from the inner cell mass (ICM); the second occurs within the ICM and involves the segregation of the extraembryonic primitive endoderm (PrE) lineage from the pluripotent epiblast (EPI) lineage, which eventually gives rise to the embryo proper. Multiple determinants, such as differential cellular properties, signaling cues and the activity of transcriptional regulators, influence lineage choice in the early embryo. Here, we provide an overview of our current understanding of the mechanisms governing these cell fate decisions ensuring proper lineage allocation and segregation, while at the same time providing the embryo with an inherent flexibility to adjust when perturbed.
Fibrosis of vital organs is a major public health problem with limited therapeutic options. Mesenchymal cells including microvascular mural cells (pericytes) are major progenitors of scar-forming myofibroblasts in kidney and other organs. Here we show pericytes in healthy kidneys have active WNT/?-catenin signaling responses that are markedly up-regulated following kidney injury. Dickkopf-related protein 1 (DKK-1), a ligand for the WNT coreceptors low-density lipoprotein receptor-related proteins 5 and 6 (LRP-5 and LRP-6) and an inhibitor of WNT/?-catenin signaling, effectively inhibits pericyte activation, detachment, and transition to myofibroblasts in vivo in response to kidney injury, resulting in attenuated fibrogenesis, capillary rarefaction, and inflammation. DKK-1 blocks activation and proliferation of established myofibroblasts in vitro and blocks pericyte proliferation to PDGF, pericyte migration, gene activation, and cytoskeletal reorganization to TGF-? or connective tissue growth factor. These effects are largely independent of inhibition of downstream ?-catenin signaling. DKK-1 acts predominantly by inhibiting PDGF-, TGF-?-, and connective tissue growth factor-activated MAPK and JNK signaling cascades, acting via LRP-6 with associated WNT ligand. Biochemically, LRP-6 interacts closely with PDGF receptor ? and TGF-? receptor 1 at the cell membrane, suggesting that it may have roles in pathways other than WNT/?-catenin. In summary, DKK-1 blocks many of the changes in pericytes required for myofibroblast transition and attenuates established myofibroblast proliferation/activation by mechanisms dependent on LRP-6 and WNT ligands but not the downstream ?-catenin pathway.
Cell differentiation during pre-implantation mammalian development involves the formation of two extra-embryonic lineages: trophoblast and primitive endoderm (PrE). A subset of cells within the inner cell mass (ICM) of the blastocyst does not respond to differentiation signals and forms the pluripotent epiblast, which gives rise to all of the tissues in the adult body. How this group of cells is set aside remains unknown. Recent studies documented distinct sequential phases of marker expression during the segregation of epiblast and PrE within the ICM. However, the connection between marker expression and lineage commitment remains unclear. Using a fluorescent reporter for PrE, we investigated the plasticity of epiblast and PrE precursors. Our observations reveal that loss of plasticity does not coincide directly with lineage restriction of epiblast and PrE markers, but rather with exclusion of the pluripotency marker Oct4 from the PrE. We note that individual ICM cells can contribute to all three lineages of the blastocyst until peri-implantation. However, epiblast precursors exhibit less plasticity than precursors of PrE, probably owing to differences in responsiveness to extracellular signalling. We therefore propose that the early embryo environment restricts the fate choice of epiblast but not PrE precursors, thus ensuring the formation and preservation of the pluripotent foetal lineage.
Mouse genetic approaches when combined with live imaging tools have the potential to revolutionize our current understanding of mammalian biology. The availability and improvement of a wide variety of fluorescent proteins have provided indispensable tools to visualize cells in living organisms. It is now possible to generate genetically modified mouse strains expressing fluorescent proteins in a tissue-specific manner. These reporter-expressing strains make it possible to image dynamic cell behaviors in the context of a living embryo. Since mouse embryos develop within the uterus, live imaging experiments require culture conditions that closely mimic those in vivo. Over the past few decades, significant advances have been made in developing conditions for culturing both pre- and postimplantation stage embryos. In this chapter, we will discuss methods for ex utero culture of preimplantation and postimplantation stage mouse embryos. In particular, we will describe protocols for collecting embryos at various stages, setting up culture conditions for imaging and using laser scanning confocal microscopy to visualize live processes in mouse embryos expressing fluorescent reporters.
The visceral endoderm (VE) is an epithelial tissue in the early postimplantation mouse embryo that encapsulates the pluripotent epiblast distally and the extraembryonic ectoderm proximally. In addition to facilitating nutrient exchange before the establishment of a circulation, the VE is critical for patterning the epiblast. Since VE is derived from the primitive endoderm (PrE) of the blastocyst, and PrE-derived eXtraembryonic ENdoderm (XEN) cells can be propagated in vitro, XEN cells should provide an important tool for identifying factors that direct VE differentiation. In this study, we demonstrated that BMP4 signaling induces the formation of a polarized epithelium in XEN cells. This morphological transition was reversible, and was associated with the acquisition of a molecular signature comparable to extraembryonic (ex) VE. Resembling exVE which will form the endoderm of the visceral yolk sac, BMP4-treated XEN cells regulated hematopoiesis by stimulating the expansion of primitive erythroid progenitors. We also observed that LIF exerted an antagonistic effect on BMP4-induced XEN cell differentiation, thereby impacting the extrinsic conditions used for the isolation and maintenance of XEN cells in an undifferentiated state. Taken together, our data suggest that XEN cells can be differentiated towards an exVE identity upon BMP4 stimulation and therefore represent a valuable tool for investigating PrE lineage differentiation.
From the hybrid creatures of the Greek and Egyptian mythologies, the concept of the chimera has evolved and, in modern day biology, refers to an organism comprises of at least two populations of genetically distinct cells. Mouse chimeras have proven an invaluable tool for the generation of genetically modified strains. In addition, chimeras have been extensively used in developmental biology as a powerful tool to analyze the phenotype of specific mutations, to attribute function to gene products and to address the question of cell autonomy versus noncell autonomy of gene function. This chapter describes a simple and economical technique used to generate mouse chimeras by embryo aggregation. Multiple aggregation combinations are described each of which can be tailored to answer particular biological questions.
Primitive erythroid (EryP) progenitors are the first cell type specified from the mesoderm late in gastrulation. We used a transgenic reporter to image and purify the earliest blood progenitors and their descendants from developing mouse embryos. EryP progenitors exhibited remarkable proliferative capacity in the yolk sac immediately before the onset of circulation, when these cells comprise nearly half of all cells of the embryo. Global expression profiles generated at 24-hour intervals from embryonic day 7.5 through 2.5 revealed 2 abrupt changes in transcript diversity that coincided with the entry of EryPs into the circulation and with their late maturation and enucleation, respectively. These changes were paralleled by the expression of critical regulatory factors. Experiments designed to test predictions from these data demonstrated that the Wnt-signaling pathway is active in EryP progenitors, which display an aerobic glycolytic profile and the numbers of which are regulated by transforming growth factor-?1 and hypoxia. This is the first transcriptome assembled for a single hematopoietic lineage of the embryo over the course of its differentiation.
Live imaging of genetically encoded fluorescent protein reporters is increasingly being used to investigate details of the cellular behaviors that underlie the large-scale tissue rearrangements that shape the embryo. However, the majority of mouse fluorescent reporter strains are based on the green fluorescent protein (GFP). Mouse reporter strains expressing fluorescent colors other than GFP are therefore valuable for co-visualization studies with GFP, where relative positioning and relationship between two different tissues or compartments within cells are being investigated. Here, we report the generation and characterization of a transgenic Afp::mCherry mouse strain in which cis-regulatory elements from the Alpha-fetoprotein (Afp) locus were used to drive expression of the monomeric Cherry red fluorescent protein. The Afp::mCherry transgene is based on and recapitulates reporter expression of a previously described Afp::GFP strain. However, we note that perdurance of mCherry protein is not as prolonged as GFP, making the Afp::mCherry line a more faithful reporter of endogenous Afp expression. Afp::mCherry transgenic mice expressed mCherry specifically in the visceral endoderm and its derivatives, including the visceral yolk sac, gut endoderm, fetal liver, and pancreas of the embryo. The Afp::mCherry reporter was also noted to be expressed in other documented sites of Afp expression including hepatocytes as well as in pancreas, digestive tract, and brain of postnatal mice.
Mammalian cells have three ATP-dependent DNA ligases, which are required for DNA replication and repair. Homologues of ligase I (Lig1) and ligase IV (Lig4) are ubiquitous in Eukarya, whereas ligase III (Lig3), which has nuclear and mitochondrial forms, appears to be restricted to vertebrates. Lig3 is implicated in various DNA repair pathways with its partner protein Xrcc1 (ref. 1). Deletion of Lig3 results in early embryonic lethality in mice, as well as apparent cellular lethality, which has precluded definitive characterization of Lig3 function. Here we used pre-emptive complementation to determine the viability requirement for Lig3 in mammalian cells and its requirement in DNA repair. Various forms of Lig3 were introduced stably into mouse embryonic stem (mES) cells containing a conditional allele of Lig3 that could be deleted with Cre recombinase. With this approach, we find that the mitochondrial, but not nuclear, Lig3 is required for cellular viability. Although the catalytic function of Lig3 is required, the zinc finger (ZnF) and BRCA1 carboxy (C)-terminal-related (BRCT) domains of Lig3 are not. Remarkably, the viability requirement for Lig3 can be circumvented by targeting Lig1 to the mitochondria or expressing Chlorella virus DNA ligase, the minimal eukaryal nick-sealing enzyme, or Escherichia coli LigA, an NAD(+)-dependent ligase. Lig3-null cells are not sensitive to several DNA-damaging agents that sensitize Xrcc1-deficient cells. Our results establish a role for Lig3 in mitochondria, but distinguish it from its interacting protein Xrcc1.
Cells of the primitive endoderm (PrE) and the pluripotent epiblast (EPI), the two lineages specified within the inner cell mass (ICM) of the mouse blastocyst stage embryo, are segregated into adjacent tissue layers by the end of the preimplantation period. The PrE layer which emerges as a polarized epithelium adjacent to the blastocoel, with a basement membrane separating it from the EPI, has two derivatives, the visceral and parietal endoderm. In this study we have investigated the localization of two transcriptional regulators of the SOX family, SOX17 and SOX7, within the PrE and its derivatives. We noted that SOX17 was first detected in a salt-and-pepper distribution within the ICM, subsequently becoming restricted to the nascent PrE epithelium. This dynamic distribution of SOX17 resembled the localization of GATA6 and GATA4, two other PrE lineage-specific transcription factors. By contrast, SOX7 was only detected in PrE cells positioned in contact with the blastocoel, raising the possibility that these cells are molecularly distinct. Our observations support a model of sequential GATA6 > SOX17 > GATA4 > SOX7 transcription factor activation within the PrE lineage, perhaps correlating with the consecutive periods of cell lineage naïvete, commitment and sorting. Furthermore our data suggest that co-expression of SOX17 and SOX7 within sorted PrE cells could account for the absence of a detectable phenotype of Sox17 mutant blastocysts. However, analysis of implantation-delayed blastocysts, revealed a role for SOX17 in the maintenance of PrE epithelial integrity, with the absence of SOX17 leading to premature delamination and migration of parietal endoderm.
Understanding the dynamic cellular behaviors and underlying molecular mechanisms that drive morphogenesis is an ongoing challenge in biology. Live imaging provides the necessary methodology to unravel the synergistic and stereotypical cell and molecular events that shape the embryo. Genetically-encoded reporters represent an essential tool for live imaging. Reporter strains can be engineered by placing cis-regulatory elements of interest to direct the expression of a desired reporter gene. In the case of canonical Wnt signaling, also referred to as Wnt/?-catenin signaling, since the downstream transcriptional response is well understood, reporters can be designed that reflect sites of active Wnt signaling, as opposed to sites of gene transcription, as is the case with many fluorescent reporters. However, even though several transgenic Wnt/?-catenin reporter strains have been generated, to date, none provides the single-cell resolution favored for live imaging studies.
The inner cell mass (ICM) of the implanting mammalian blastocyst comprises two lineages: the pluripotent epiblast (EPI) and primitive endoderm (PrE). We have identified platelet-derived growth factor receptor alpha (PDGFR?) as an early marker of the PrE lineage and its derivatives in both mouse embryos and ex vivo paradigms of extra-embryonic endoderm (ExEn). By combining live imaging of embryos and embryo-derived stem cells expressing a histone H2B-GFP fusion reporter under the control of Pdgfra regulatory elements with the analysis of lineage-specific markers, we found that Pdgfra expression coincides with that of GATA6, the earliest expressed transcriptional regulator of the PrE lineage. We show that GATA6 is required for the activation of Pdgfra expression. Using pharmacological inhibition and genetic inactivation we addressed the role of the PDGF pathway in the PrE lineage. Our results demonstrate that PDGF signaling is essential for the establishment, and plays a role in the proliferation, of XEN cells, which are isolated from mouse blastocyst stage embryos and represent the PrE lineage. Implanting Pdgfra mutant blastocysts exhibited a reduced number of PrE cells, an effect that was exacerbated by delaying implantation. Surprisingly, we also noted an increase in the number of EPI cells in implantation-delayed Pdgfra-null mutants. Taken together, our data suggest a role for PDGF signaling in the expansion of the ExEn lineage. Our observations also uncover a possible role for the PrE in regulating the size of the pluripotent EPI compartment.
The gene expression, signaling, and cellular dynamics driving mouse embryo development have emerged through embryology and genetic studies. However, since mouse development is a temporally regulated three-dimensional process, any insight needs to be placed in this context of real-time visualization. Live imaging using genetically encoded fluorescent protein reporters is pushing the envelope of our understanding by uncovering unprecedented insights into mouse development and leading to the formulation of quantitative accurate models.
Multicellular organisms arise from the generation of different cell types and the organization of cells into tissues and organs. Cells of metazoa display two main phenotypes, the ancestral epithelial state and the recent mesenchymal derivative. Epithelial cells are usually stationary and reside in two-dimensional sheets. By contrast mesenchymal cells are loosely packed and can move to new positions, thereby providing a vehicle for cell rearrangement, dispersal and novel cell-cell interactions. Transitions between epithelial and mesenchymal states drive key morphogenetic events in the early vertebrate embryo, including gastrulation, germ layer formation and somitogenesis. The cell behaviors and molecular mechanisms promoting transitions between these two states in the early mouse embryo are discussed in this review.
To exploit the flood of data from advances in high throughput imaging of optically sectioned nuclei, image analysis methods need to correctly detect thousands of nuclei, ideally in real time. Variability in nuclear appearance and undersampled volumetric data make this a challenge.
The vertebrate limb bud arises from lateral plate mesoderm and its overlying ectoderm. Despite progress regarding the genetic requirements for limb development, morphogenetic mechanisms that generate early outgrowth remain relatively undefined. We show by live imaging and lineage tracing in different vertebrate models that the lateral plate contributes mesoderm to the early limb bud through directional cell movement. The direction of cell motion, longitudinal cell axes and bias in cell division planes lie largely parallel to one another along the rostrocaudal (head-tail) axis in lateral plate mesoderm. Transition of these parameters from a rostrocaudal to a mediolateral (outward from the body wall) orientation accompanies early limb bud outgrowth. Furthermore, we provide evidence that Wnt5a acts as a chemoattractant in the emerging limb bud where it contributes to the establishment of cell polarity that is likely to underlie the oriented cell behaviours.
Initial specification of cardiomyocytes in the mouse results from interactions between the extraembryonic anterior visceral endoderm (AVE) and the nascent mesoderm. However the mechanism by which AVE activates cardiogenesis is not well understood, and the identity of specific cardiogenic factors in the endoderm remains elusive. Most mammalian studies of the cardiogenic potential of the endoderm have relied on the use of cell lines that are similar to the heart-inducing AVE. These include the embryonal-carcinoma-derived cell lines, END2 and PYS2. The recent development of protocols to isolate eXtraembryonic ENdoderm (XEN) stem cells, representing the extraembryonic endoderm lineage, from blastocyst stage mouse embryos offers new tools for the genetic dissection of cardiogenesis.
Coordinated cell movements and reciprocal tissue interactions direct the formation of the definitive germ layers and the elaboration of the major axes of the mouse embryo. Genetic and embryological studies have defined the major molecular pathways that mediate these morphogenetic processes and provided snapshots of the morphogenetic program. However, it is increasingly clear that this foundation needs to be validated, and can be significantly refined and extended using live imaging approaches. In situ visualization of these processes in living specimens is a major goal, as it provides unprecedented detail of the individual cellular behaviors, which translate into the large-scale tissue rearrangements that shape the embryo.
Prior to gastrulation in the mouse, all endodermal cells arise from the primitive endoderm of the blastocyst stage embryo. Primitive endoderm and its derivatives are generally referred to as extra-embryonic endoderm (ExEn) because the majority of these cells contribute to extra-embryonic lineages encompassing the visceral endoderm (VE) and the parietal endoderm (PE). During gastrulation, the definitive endoderm (DE) forms by ingression of cells from the epiblast. The DE comprises most of the cells of the gut and its accessory organs. Despite their different origins and fates, there is a surprising amount of overlap in marker expression between the ExEn and DE, making it difficult to distinguish between these cell types by marker analysis. This is significant for two main reasons. First, because endodermal organs, such as the liver and pancreas, play important physiological roles in adult animals, much experimental effort has been directed in recent years toward the establishment of protocols for the efficient derivation of endodermal cell types in vitro. Conversely, factors secreted by the VE play pivotal roles that cannot be attributed to the DE in early axis formation, heart formation and the patterning of the anterior nervous system. Thus, efforts in both of these areas have been hampered by a lack of markers that clearly distinguish between ExEn and DE. To further understand the ExEn we have undertaken a comparative analysis of three ExEn-like cell lines (END2, PYS2 and XEN). PYS2 cells are derived from embryonal carcinomas (EC) of 129 strain mice and have been characterized as parietal endoderm-like , END2 cells are derived from P19 ECs and described as visceral endoderm-like, while XEN cells are derived from blastocyst stage embryos and are described as primitive endoderm-like. Our analysis suggests that none of these cell lines represent a bona fide single in vivo lineage. Both PYS2 and XEN cells represent mixed populations expressing markers for several ExEn lineages. Conversely END2 cells, which were previously characterized as VE-like, fail to express many markers that are widely expressed in the VE, but instead express markers for only a subset of the VE, the anterior visceral endoderm. In addition END2 cells also express markers for the PE. We extended these observations with microarray analysis which was used to probe and refine previously published data sets of genes proposed to distinguish between DE and VE. Finally, genome-wide pathway analysis revealed that SMAD-independent TGFbeta signaling through a TAK1/p38/JNK or TAK1/NLK pathway may represent one mode of intracellular signaling shared by all three of these lines, and suggests that factors downstream of these pathways may mediate some functions of the ExEn. These studies represent the first step in the development of XEN cells as a powerful molecular genetic tool to study the endodermal signals that mediate the important developmental functions of the extra-embryonic endoderm. Our data refine our current knowledge of markers that distinguish various subtypes of endoderm. In addition, pathway analysis suggests that the ExEn may mediate some of its functions through a non-classical MAP Kinase signaling pathway downstream of TAK1.
Neurulation, the process of neural tube formation, is a complex morphogenetic event. In the mammalian embryo, an understanding of the dynamic nature of neurulation has been hampered due to its in utero development. Here we use laser point scanning confocal microscopy of a membrane expressed fluorescent protein to visualize the dynamic cell behaviors comprising neural tube closure in the cultured mouse embryo. In particular, we have focused on the final step wherein the neural folds approach one another and seal to form the closed neural tube. Our unexpected findings reveal a mechanism of closure in the midbrain different from the zipper-like process thought to occur more generally. Individual non-neural ectoderm cells on opposing sides of the neural folds undergo a dramatic change in shape to protrude from the epithelial layer and then form intermediate closure points to "button-up" the folds. Cells from the juxtaposed neural folds extend long and short flexible extensions and form bridges across the physical gap of the closing folds. Thus, the combination of live embryo culture with dynamic imaging provides intriguing insight into the cell biological processes that mold embryonic tissues in mammals.
An organism arises from the coordinate generation of different cell types and the stereotypical organization of these cells into tissues and organs. Even so, the dynamic behaviors, as well as the ultimate fates, of cells driving the morphogenesis of an organism, or even an individual organ, remain largely unknown. Continued innovations in optical imaging modalities, along with the discovery and evolution of improved genetically-encoded fluorescent protein reporters in combination with model organism, stem cell and tissue engineering paradigms are providing the means to investigate these unresolved questions. The emergence of fluorescent proteins whose spectral properties can be photomodulated is one of the most significant new developments in the field of cell biology where they are primarily used for studying protein dynamics in cells. Likewise, the use of photomodulatable fluorescent proteins holds great promise for use in developmental biology. Photomodulatable fluorescent proteins also represent attractive and emergent tools for studying cell dynamics in complex populations by facilitating the labeling and tracking of individual or defined groups of cells. Here, we review the currently available photomodulatable fluorescent proteins and their application in model organisms. We also discuss prospects for their use in mice, and by extension in embryonic stem cell and tissue engineering paradigms.
Myoblast fusion is crucial for the formation, growth, maintenance and regeneration of healthy skeletal muscle. Unfortunately, the molecular machinery, cell behaviors, and membrane and cytoskeletal remodeling events that govern fusion and myofiber formation remain poorly understood. Using time-lapse imaging approaches on mouse C2C12 myoblasts, we identify discrete and specific molecular events at myoblast membranes during fusion and myotube formation. These events include rearrangement of cell shape from fibroblast to spindle-like morphologies, changes in lamellipodial and filopodial extensions during different periods of differentiation, and changes in membrane alignment and organization during fusion. We find that actin-cytoskeleton remodeling is crucial for these events: pharmacological inhibition of F-actin polymerization leads to decreased lamellipodial and filopodial extensions and to reduced myoblast fusion. Additionally, shRNA-mediated inhibition of Nap1, a member of the WAVE actin-remodeling complex, results in accumulations of F-actin structures at the plasma membrane that are concomitant with a decrease in myoblast fusion. Our data highlight distinct and essential roles for actin cytoskeleton remodeling during mammalian myoblast fusion, provide a platform for cellular and molecular dissection of the fusion process, and suggest a functional conservation of Nap1-regulated actin-cytoskeleton remodeling during myoblast fusion between mammals and Drosophila.
The use of genetically-encoded fluorescent proteins has revolutionized the fields of cell and developmental biology and in doing so redefined our understanding of the dynamic morphogenetic processes that shape the embryo. With the advent of more accessible and sophisticated imaging technologies as well as an abundance of fluorescent proteins with different spectral characteristics, the dynamic processes taking place in situ in living cells and tissues can now be probed. Photomodulatable fluorescent proteins are one of the emerging classes of genetically-encoded fluorescent proteins.
Understanding the cellular events that underlie epithelial morphogenesis is a key problem in developmental biology. Here, we describe a new transgenic mouse line that makes it possible to visualize individual cells specifically in the Wolffian duct and ureteric bud, the epithelial structures that give rise to the collecting system of the kidney. myr-Venus, a membrane-associated form of the fluorescent protein Venus, was expressed in the ureteric bud lineage under the control of the Hoxb7 promoter. In Hoxb7/myr-Venus mice, the outlines of all Wolffian duct and ureteric bud epithelial cells are strongly labeled at all stages of urogenital development, allowing the shapes and arrangements of individual cells to be readily observed by confocal microscopy of freshly excised or cultured kidneys. This strain should be extremely useful for studies of cell behavior during ureteric bud branching morphogenesis in wild type and mutant mouse lines.
Transthyretin (Ttr) is a thyroid hormone transport protein secreted by cells of the visceral yolk sac and fetal liver in developing embryos, and by hepatocytes and the choroid plexus epithelium of the brain in adult mice. Spatiotemporal localization of Ttr mRNA during embryogenesis suggested that Ttr regulatory elements might drive transgene expression throughout the visceral endoderm of early mouse embryos. We use Ttr cis-regulatory elements to generate Ttr::RFP and Ttr::Cre strains of mice, driving red fluorescent protein (RFP) and a nuclear-localized Cre recombinase, respectively. Visualization of RFP fluorescence in Ttr::RFP transgenics confirms reporter localization throughout the visceral endoderm in early embryos and in the visceral yolk sac and fetal liver of later stage embryos. Using both GFP-based and LacZ-based Cre reporter strains, we demonstrate that in Ttr::Cre transgenics, Cre-mediated recombination occurs throughout the visceral endoderm. The Ttr::Cre strain can therefore be used as a tool for genetic modifications within the visceral endoderm lineage.
To simultaneously follow multiple subcellular characteristics, for example, cell position and cell morphology, in living specimens requires multiple subcellular labels. Toward this goal, we generated dual-tagged mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells constitutively expressing differentially localized, spectrally distinct, genetically encoded fluorescent protein fusions. We have used human histone H2B fusions to fluorescent proteins to mark chromatin. This provides a descriptor of cell position, division, and death. An additional descriptor of cell morphology is achieved by combining this transgene with select lipid-modified fluorescent protein fusions that mark the plasma membrane. Using this strategy, wewere able to live image cellular dynamics in three dimensions over time both in cultured ES cells and in mouse embryos generated using dual-tagged ES cells. This study, therefore, presents the feasibility of applying multiple spectrally and subcellularly distinct fluorescent protein reporters for live imaging studies in ES cells and mouse embryos. Furthermore, the increasing availability of spectral variant fluorescent proteins along with the development of methods that permit improved spectral separation now facilitate multiplexing of fluorescent reporters to provide readouts of a variety of anatomical and physiological behaviors simultaneously in living specimens.
During the past 40 years, mouse chimeras have served as invaluable tools for studying not only genetics but also embryonic development, and the path from undifferentiated cell populations to fully committed functional cell types. This chapter gives a description of the early events of cell commitment and differentiation in the pre-and postimplantation-stage embryo. Next, a discussion follows highlighting the most commonly used as well as more recently developed applications of various cell types and origins used in the production of chimeras. Finally, detailed protocols and trouble-shooting suggestions will be presented for each of the steps involved.
The development of the cardiovascular system is a highly dynamic process dependent on multiple signaling pathways regulating proliferation, differentiation, migration, cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions. To characterize cell and tissue dynamics during the formation of the cardiovascular system in mice, we generated a novel transgenic mouse line, Tg(Flk1::myr-mCherry), in which endothelial cell membranes are brightly labeled with mCherry, a red fluorescent protein. Tg(Flk1::myr-mCherry) mice are viable, fertile, and do not exhibit any developmental abnormalities. High levels of mCherry are expressed in the embryonic endothelium and endocardium, and expression is also observed in capillaries in adult animals. Targeting of the fluorescent protein to the cell membrane allows for subcellular imaging and cell tracking. By acquiring confocal time lapses of live embryos cultured on the microscope stage, we demonstrate that the newly generated transgenic model beautifully highlights the sprouting behaviors of endothelial cells during vascular plexus formation. We have also used embryos from this line to imaging the endocardium in the beating embryonic mouse heart, showing that Tg(Flk1::myr-mCherry) mice are suitable for the characterization of cardio dynamics. Furthermore, when combined with the previously described Tg(Flk1::H2B-EYFP) line, cell number in addition to cell architecture is revealed, making it possible to determine how individual endothelial cells contribute to the structure of the vessel.
Microscopy has always been an obligate tool in the field of developmental biology, a goal of which is to elucidate the essential cellular and molecular interactions that coordinate the specification of different cell types and the establishment of body plans. The 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP in recognition that the discovery of genetically encoded fluorescent proteins (FPs) has spearheaded a revolution in applications for imaging of live cells. With the development of more-sophisticated imaging technology and availability of FPs with different spectral characteristics, dynamic processes can now be live-imaged at high resolution in situ in embryos. Here, we review some recent advances in this rapidly evolving field as applied to live-imaging capabilities in the mouse, the most genetically tractable mammalian model organism for embryologists.
Congenital malformations represent approximately 3 in 100 live births within the human population. Understanding their pathogenesis and ultimately formulating effective treatments are underpinned by knowledge of the events and factors that regulate normal embryonic development. Studies in model organisms, primarily in the mouse, the most prominent genetically tractable mammalian model, have equipped us with a rudimentary understanding of mammalian development from early lineage commitment to morphogenetic processes. In this way, information provided by studies in the mouse can, in some cases, be used to draw parallels with other mammals, including human. Here, we provide an overview of our current understanding of the general sequence of developmental events from early cell cleavages to gastrulation and axis extension occurring in human embryos. We will also review some of the rare birth defects occurring at these stages, in particular those resulting in conjoined twinning or caudal dysgenesis.
The emergence of pluripotent epiblast (EPI) and primitive endoderm (PrE) lineages within the inner cell mass (ICM) of the mouse blastocyst involves initial co-expression of lineage-associated markers followed by mutual exclusion and salt-and-pepper distribution of lineage-biased cells. Precisely how EPI and PrE cell fate commitment occurs is not entirely clear; however, previous studies in mice have implicated FGF/ERK signaling in this process. Here, we investigated the phenotype resulting from zygotic and maternal/zygotic inactivation of Fgf4. Fgf4 heterozygous blastocysts exhibited increased numbers of NANOG-positive EPI cells and reduced numbers of GATA6-positive PrE cells, suggesting that FGF signaling is tightly regulated to ensure specification of the appropriate numbers of cells for each lineage. Although the size of the ICM was unaffected in Fgf4 null mutant embryos, it entirely lacked a PrE layer and exclusively comprised NANOG-expressing cells at the time of implantation. An initial period of widespread EPI and PrE marker co-expression was however established even in the absence of FGF4. Thus, Fgf4 mutant embryos initiated the PrE program but exhibited defects in its restriction phase, when lineage bias is acquired. Consistent with this, XEN cells could be derived from Fgf4 mutant embryos in which PrE had been restored and these cells appeared indistinguishable from wild-type cells. Sustained exogenous FGF failed to rescue the mutant phenotype. Instead, depending on concentration, we noted no effect or conversion of all ICM cells to GATA6-positive PrE. We propose that heterogeneities in the availability of FGF produce the salt-and-pepper distribution of lineage-biased cells.
Choroid plexus epithelial cells (CPECs) have essential developmental and homeostatic roles related to the CSF and blood-CSF barrier they produce. Accordingly, CPEC dysfunction has been implicated in many neurological disorders, such as Alzheimers disease, and transplant studies have provided proof-of-concept for CPEC-based therapies. However, such therapies have been hindered by the inability to expand or generate CPECs in culture. During development, CPECs differentiate from preneurogenic neuroepithelial cells and require bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling, but whether BMPs suffice for CPEC induction is unknown. Here we provide evidence for BMP4 sufficiency to induce CPEC fate from neural progenitors derived from mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs). CPEC specification by BMP4 was restricted to an early time period after neural induction in culture, with peak CPEC competency correlating to neuroepithelial cells rather than radial glia. In addition to molecular, cellular, and ultrastructural criteria, derived CPECs (dCPECs) had functions that were indistinguishable from primary CPECs, including self-assembly into secretory vesicles and integration into endogenous choroid plexus epithelium following intraventricular injection. We then used BMP4 to generate dCPECs from human ESC-derived neuroepithelial cells. These findings demonstrate BMP4 sufficiency to instruct CPEC fate, expand the repertoire of stem cell-derived neural derivatives in culture, and herald dCPEC-based therapeutic applications aimed at the unique interface between blood, CSF, and brain governed by CPECs.
The canonical Wnt/?-catenin signaling pathway is known to play crucial roles in organogenesis by regulating both proliferation and differentiation. In the inner ear, this pathway has been shown to regulate the size of the otic placode from which the cochlea will arise; however, direct activity of canonical Wnt signaling as well as its function during cochlear mechanosensory hair cell development had yet to be identified. Using TCF/Lef:H2B-GFP reporter mice and transfection of an independent TCF/Lef reporter construct, we describe the pattern of canonical Wnt activity in the developing mouse cochlea. We show that prior to terminal mitosis, canonical Wnt activity is high in early prosensory cells from which hair cells and support cells will differentiate, and activity becomes reduced as development progresses. Using an in vitro model we demonstrate that Wnt/?-catenin signaling regulates both proliferation and hair cell differentiation within the developing cochlear duct. Inhibition of Wnt/?-catenin signaling blocks proliferation during early mitotic phases of development and inhibits hair cell formation in the differentiating organ of Corti. Conversely, activation increases the number of hair cells that differentiate and induces proliferation in prosensory cells, causing an expansion of the Sox2-positive prosensory domain. We further demonstrate that the induced proliferation of Sox2-positive cells may be mediated by the cell cycle regulator cyclin D1. Lastly, we provide evidence that the mitotic Sox2-positive cells are competent to differentiate into hair cells. Combined, our data suggest that Wnt/?-catenin signaling has a dual function in cochlear development, regulating both proliferation and hair cell differentiation.
At the time of implantation, the early mouse embryo consists of three distinct cell lineages: the epiblast (EPI), primitive endoderm (PrE), and trophectoderm (TE). Here we will focus on the EPI and PrE cell lineages, which arise within the inner cell mass (ICM) of the blastocyst. Though still poorly understood, our current understanding of the mechanisms underlying this lineage allocation will be discussed. It was originally thought that lineage choice was strictly controlled by the position of a cell within the ICM. However, it is now believed that the EPI and PrE lineages are defined both by their position and by the expression of lineage-specific transcription factors. Interestingly, these lineage-specific transcription factors are initially co-expressed in early ICM cells, suggesting an initial multi-lineage priming state. Thereafter, lineage-specific transcription factors display a mutually exclusive salt-and-pepper distribution that reflects cell specification of the EPI or PrE fates. Later on, lineage segregation and likely commitment are completed with the sequestration of PrE cells to the surface of the ICM, which lies at the blastocyst cavity roof. We discuss recent advances that have focused on elucidating how the salt-and-pepper pattern is established and then resolved within the ICM, leading to the correct apposition of cell lineages in preparation for implantation.
The inner cell mass of the mouse pre-implantation blastocyst comprises epiblast progenitor and primitive endoderm cells of which cognate embryonic (mESCs) or extra-embryonic (XEN) stem cell lines can be derived. Importantly, each stem cell type retains the defining properties and lineage restriction of their in vivo tissue of origin. Recently, we demonstrated that XEN-like cells arise within mESC cultures. This raises the possibility that mESCs can generate self-renewing XEN cells without the requirement for gene manipulation. We have developed a novel approach to convert mESCs to XEN cells (cXEN) using growth factors. We confirm that the downregulation of the pluripotency transcription factor Nanog and the expression of primitive endoderm-associated genes Gata6, Gata4, Sox17 and Pdgfra are necessary for cXEN cell derivation. This approach highlights an important function for Fgf4 in cXEN cell derivation. Paracrine FGF signalling compensates for the loss of endogenous Fgf4, which is necessary to exit mESC self-renewal, but not for XEN cell maintenance. Our cXEN protocol also reveals that distinct pluripotent stem cells respond uniquely to differentiation promoting signals. cXEN cells can be derived from mESCs cultured with Erk and Gsk3 inhibitors (2i), and LIF, similar to conventional mESCs. However, we find that epiblast stem cells (EpiSCs) derived from the post-implantation embryo are refractory to cXEN cell establishment, consistent with the hypothesis that EpiSCs represent a pluripotent state distinct from mESCs. In all, these findings suggest that the potential of mESCs includes the capacity to give rise to both extra-embryonic and embryonic lineages.
Paraxial mesoderm is the tissue which gives rise to the skeletal muscles and vertebral column of the body. A gene regulatory network operating in the formation of paraxial mesoderm has been described. This network hinges on three key factors, Wnt3a, Msgn1 and Tbx6, each of which is critical for paraxial mesoderm formation, since absence of any one of these factors results in complete absence of posterior somites. In this study we determined and compared the spatial and temporal patterns of expression of Wnt3a, Msgn1 and Tbx6 at a time when paraxial mesoderm is being formed. Then, we performed a comparative characterization of mutants in Wnt3a, Msgn1 and Tbx6. To determine the epistatic relationship between these three genes, and begin to decipher the complex interplay between them, we analyzed double mutant embryos and compared their phenotypes to the single mutants. Through the analysis of molecular markers in mutants, our data support the bipotential nature of the progenitor cells for paraxial mesoderm and establish regulatory relationships between genes involved in the choice between neural and mesoderm fates.
Establishment of left-right (LR) asymmetry occurs after gastrulation commences and utilizes a conserved cascade of events. In the mouse, LR symmetry is broken at a midline structure, the node, and involves signal relay to the lateral plate, where it results in asymmetric organ morphogenesis. How information transmits from the node to the distantly situated lateral plate remains unclear. Noting that embryos lacking Sox17 exhibit defects in both gut endoderm formation and LR patterning, we investigated a potential connection between these two processes. We observed an endoderm-specific absence of the critical gap junction component, Connexin43 (Cx43), in Sox17 mutants. Iontophoretic dye injection experiments revealed planar gap junction coupling across the gut endoderm in wild-type but not Sox17 mutant embryos. They also revealed uncoupling of left and right sides of the gut endoderm in an isolated domain of gap junction intercellular communication at the midline, which in principle could function as a barrier to communication between the left and right sides of the embryo. The role for gap junction communication in LR patterning was confirmed by pharmacological inhibition, which molecularly recapitulated the mutant phenotype. Collectively, our data demonstrate that Cx43-mediated communication across gap junctions within the gut endoderm serves as a mechanism for information relay between node and lateral plate in a process that is critical for the establishment of LR asymmetry in mice.
Mouse embryonic development comprises highly dynamic and coordinated events that drive key cell lineage specification and morphogenetic events. These processes involve cellular behaviors including proliferation, migration, apoptosis, and differentiation, each of which is regulated both spatially and temporally. Live imaging of developing embryos provides an essential tool to investigate these coordinated processes in three-dimensional space over time. For this purpose, the development and application of genetically encoded fluorescent protein (FP) reporters has accelerated over the past decade allowing for the high-resolution visualization of developmental progression. Ongoing efforts are aimed at generating improved reporters, where spectrally distinct as well as novel FPs whose optical properties can be photomodulated, are exploited for live imaging of mouse embryos. Moreover, subcellular tags in combination with using FPs allow for the visualization of multiple subcellular characteristics, such as cell position and cell morphology, in living embryos. Here, we review recent advances in the application of FPs for live imaging in the early mouse embryo, as well as some of the methods used for ex utero embryo development that facilitate on-stage time-lapse specimen visualization.
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