Neural differentiation of pluripotent mouse embryonal carcinoma cells by retinoic acid: inhibitory effect of serum

Physiol Res. 2005;54(1):115-122. doi: 10.33549/physiolres.930526.


In both embryonal carcinoma (EC) and embryonic stem (ES) cells, the differentiation pathway entered after treatment with retinoic acid (RA) varies as it is based upon different conditions of culture. This study employs mouse EC cells P19 to investigate the effects of serum on RA-induced neural differentiation occurring in a simplified monolayer culture. Cell morphology and expression of lineage-specific molecular markers document that, while non-neural cell types arise after treatment with RA under serum-containing conditions, in chemically defined serum-free media RA induces massive neural differentiation in concentrations of 10(-9) M and higher. Moreover, not only neural (Mash-1) and neuroectodermal (Pax-6), but also endodermal (GATA-4, alpha-fetoprotein) genes are expressed at early stages of differentiation driven by RA under serum-free conditions. Furthermore, as determined by the luciferase reporter assay, the presence or absence of the serum does not affect the activity of the retinoic acid response element (RARE). Thus, mouse EC cells are able to produce neural cells upon exposure to RA even without culture in three-dimensional embryoid bodies (EBs). However, in contrast to standard EBs-involving protocol(s), neural differentiation in monolayer only takes place when complex signaling from serum factors is avoided. This simple and efficient strategy is proposed to serve as a basis for neurodifferentiation studies in vitro.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Culture Media, Serum-Free / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / physiology
  • Response Elements / physiology
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Proteins
  • Culture Media, Serum-Free
  • Tretinoin