Apoptosis and differentiation commitment: novel insights revealed by gene profiling studies in mouse embryonic stem cells

Cell Death Differ. 2006 Apr;13(4):564-75. doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4401789.


Mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells remain pluripotent in vitro when grown in the presence of leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF). LIF starvation leads to apoptosis of some of the ES-derived differentiated cells, together with p38alpha mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation. Apoptosis, but not morphological cell differentiation, is blocked by a p38 inhibitor, PD169316. To further understand the mechanism of action of this compound, we have identified its specific targets by microarray studies. We report on the global expression profiles of genes expressed at 3 days upon LIF withdrawal (d3) compared to pluripotent cells and of genes whose expression is modulated at d3 under anti-apoptotic conditions. We showed that at d3 without LIF cells express, earlier than anticipated, specialized cell markers and that when the apoptotic process was impaired, expression of differentiation markers was altered. In addition, functional tests revealed properties of anti-apoptotic proteins not to alter cell pluripotency and a novel role for metallothionein 1 gene, which prevents apoptosis of early differentiated cells.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis* / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation* / genetics
  • Cell Line
  • Embryo, Mammalian / cytology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects
  • Imidazoles / pharmacology
  • Interleukin-6 / pharmacology
  • Leukemia Inhibitory Factor
  • Metallothionein / genetics
  • Metallothionein / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / enzymology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Stem Cells / enzymology
  • Transfection
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Imidazoles
  • Interleukin-6
  • Leukemia Inhibitory Factor
  • Lif protein, mouse
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • metallothionein isoform 1
  • Metallothionein
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • 2-(4-nitrophenyl)-4-(4-fluorophenyl)-5-(4-pyridinyl)-1H-imidazole