Selection of embryonic stem cell-derived enhanced green fluorescent protein-positive dopamine neurons using the tyrosine hydroxylase promoter is confounded by reporter gene expression in immature cell populations

Stem Cells. 2007 May;25(5):1126-35. doi: 10.1634/stemcells.2006-0540. Epub 2007 Jan 18.


Transplantation of mouse embryonic stem (mES) cells can restore function in Parkinson disease models, but can generate teratomas. Purification of dopamine neurons derived from embryonic stem cells by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) could provide a functional cell population for transplantation while eliminating the risk of teratoma formation. Here we used the tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) promoter to drive enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) expression in mES cells. First, we evaluated 2.5-kilobase (kb) and 9-kb TH promoter fragments and showed that clones generated using the 9-kb fragment produced significantly more eGFP+/TH+ neurons. We selected the 9-kb TH clone with the highest eGFP/TH overlap for further differentiation, FACS, and transplantation experiments. Grafts contained large numbers of eGFP+ dopamine neurons of an appropriate phenotype. However, there were also numerous eGFP+ cells that did not express TH and did not have a neuronal morphology. In addition, we found cells in the grafts representing all three germ layers. Based on these findings, we examined the expression of stem cell markers in our eGFP+ population. We found that a majority of eGFP+ cells were stage-specific embryonic antigen-positive (SSEA-1+) and that the genetically engineered clones contained more SSEA-1+ cells after differentiation than the original D3 mES cells. By negative selection of SSEA-1, we could isolate a neuronal eGFP+ population of high purity. These results illustrate the complexity of using genetic selection to purify mES cell-derived dopamine neurons and provide a comprehensive analysis of cell selection strategies based on tyrosine hydroxylase expression. Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is found at the end of this article.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Expression
  • Genes, Reporter*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • Lewis X Antigen / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Transplantation, Heterologous
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / genetics*


  • Lewis X Antigen
  • enhanced green fluorescent protein
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Dopamine