Manipulation of signaling thresholds in "engineered stem cell niches" identifies design criteria for pluripotent stem cell screens

PLoS One. 2009 Jul 30;4(7):e6438. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006438.


In vivo, stem cell fate is regulated by local microenvironmental parameters. Governing parameters in this stem cell niche include soluble factors, extra-cellular matrix, and cell-cell interactions. The complexity of this in vivo niche limits analyses into how individual niche parameters regulate stem cell fate. Herein we use mouse embryonic stem cells (mESC) and micro-contact printing (microCP) to investigate how niche size controls endogenous signaling thresholds. microCP is used to restrict colony diameter, separation, and degree of clustering. We show, for the first time, spatial control over the activation of the Janus kinase/signal transducer and activator of transcription pathway (Jak-Stat). The functional consequences of this niche-size-dependent signaling control are confirmed by demonstrating that direct and indirect transcriptional targets of Stat3, including members of the Jak-Stat pathway and pluripotency-associated genes, are regulated by colony size. Modeling results and empirical observations demonstrate that colonies less than 100 microm in diameter are too small to maximize endogenous Stat3 activation and that colonies separated by more than 400 microm can be considered independent from each other. These results define parameter boundaries for the use of ESCs in screening studies, demonstrate the importance of context in stem cell responsiveness to exogenous cues, and suggest that niche size is an important parameter in stem cell fate control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Lineage
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Janus Kinases / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*


  • STAT3 Transcription Factor
  • Janus Kinases