Effects of oxygen on mouse embryonic stem cell growth, phenotype retention, and cellular energetics

Biotechnol Bioeng. 2008 Oct 1;101(2):241-54. doi: 10.1002/bit.21986.


Most embryonic stem (ES) cell research is performed with a gas phase oxygen partial pressure (pO(2)) of 142 mmHg, whereas embryonic cells in early development are exposed to pO(2) values of 0-30 mmHg. To understand effects of these differences, we studied murine ES (mES) growth, maintenance of stem cell phenotype, and cell energetics over a pO(2) range of 0-285 mmHg, in the presence or absence of differentiation-suppressing leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF). With LIF, growth rate was sensitive to pO(2) but constant with time, and expression of self-renewal transcription factors decreased at extremes of pO(2). Subtle morphological changes suggested some early differentiation, but cells retained the ability to differentiate into derivatives of all three germ layers at low pO(2). Without LIF, growth rate decreased with time, and self-renewal transcription factor mRNA decreased further. Gross morphological changes occurred, and overt differentiation occurred at all pO(2). These findings suggested that hypoxia in the presence of LIF promoted limited early differentiation. ES cells survived oxygen starvation with negligible cell death by increasing anaerobic metabolism within 48 h of anoxic exposure. Decreasing pO(2) to 36 mmHg or lower decreased oxygen consumption rate and increased lactate production rate. The fraction of ATP generated aerobically was 60% at or above 142 mmHg and decreased to 0% under anoxia, but the total ATP production rate remained nearly constant at all pO(2). In conclusion, undifferentiated ES cells adapt their energy metabolism to proliferate at all pO(2) between 0 and 285 mmHg. Oxygen has minimal effects on undifferentiated cell growth and phenotype, but may exert more substantial effects under differentiating conditions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Proliferation
  • DNA Damage
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Lactic Acid / biosynthesis
  • Leukemia Inhibitory Factor / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Oxygen Consumption*
  • Phenotype
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Leukemia Inhibitory Factor
  • Lif protein, mouse
  • Transcription Factors
  • Lactic Acid
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase