Synthesis and organization of hyaluronan and versican by embryonic stem cells undergoing embryoid body differentiation

J Histochem Cytochem. 2010 Apr;58(4):345-58. doi: 10.1369/jhc.2009.954826. Epub 2009 Dec 21.


Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) provide a convenient model to probe the molecular and cellular dynamics of developmental cell morphogenesis. ESC differentiation in vitro via embryoid bodies (EBs) recapitulates many aspects of early stages of development, including the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of pluripotent cells into more differentiated progeny. Hyaluronan and versican are important extracellular mediators of EMT processes, yet the temporal expression and spatial distribution of these extracellular matrix (ECM) molecules during EB differentiation remains undefined. Thus, the objective of this study was to evaluate the synthesis and organization of hyaluronan and versican by using murine ESCs during EB differentiation. Hyaluronan and versican (V0 and V1 isoforms), visualized by immunohistochemistry and evaluated biochemically, accumulated within EBs during the course of differentiation. Interestingly, increasing amounts of a 70-kDa proteolytic fragment of versican were also detected over time, along with ADAMTS-1 and -5 protein expression. ESCs expressed each of the hyaluronan synthases (HAS) -1, -2, and -3 and versican splice variants (V0, V1, V2, and V3) throughout EB differentiation, but HAS-2, V0, and V1 were expressed at significantly increased levels at each time point examined. Hyaluronan and versican exhibited overlapping expression patterns within EBs in regions of low cell density, and versican expression was excluded from clusters of epithelial (cytokeratin-positive) cells but was enriched within the vicinity of mesenchymal (N-cadherin-positive) cells. These results indicate that hyaluronan and versican synthesized by ESCs within EB microenvironments are associated with EMT processes and furthermore suggest that endogenously produced ECM molecules play a role in ESC differentiation. This manuscript contains online supplemental material at Please visit this article online to view these materials.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Line
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Hyaluronic Acid / biosynthesis*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Versicans / biosynthesis*


  • Vcan protein, mouse
  • Versicans
  • Hyaluronic Acid