Noggin, retinoids, and fibroblast growth factor regulate hepatic or pancreatic fate of human embryonic stem cells

Gastroenterology. 2010 Jun;138(7):2233-45, 2245.e1-14. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2010.02.056. Epub 2010 Mar 3.


Background & aims: New sources of beta cells are needed to develop cell therapies for patients with diabetes. An in vitro, sequential method has been developed to derive pancreatic progenitors, but this technique has not been used for other cell lines. We investigated whether definitive endoderm derived from human embryonic stem (hES) cells might be used to create beta cells.

Methods: Five hES cell lines were induced to form pancreatic progenitors and analyzed for pancreas markers. Cells were incubated with a bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) antagonist, retinoids, a Hedgehog antagonist, or fibroblast growth factor (FGF) and phenotypes were analyzed.

Results: Four hES cell lines sequentially generated definitive endoderm, primitive gut, and posterior foregut equivalents, as described previously. However, functional hepatocytes, rather than pancreas progenitors, developed. Consistent with liver development, FGF and BMP signaling pathways were involved in this process; their inhibition disrupted hepatocyte differentiation. During early stages of development, exposure of cells to noggin and retinoid acid, followed by FGF10, generated pancreatic cells (PDX1+; 50%-80%) that coexpressed FOXA2, HNF6, and SOX9.

Conclusions: These findings demonstrate the combined functions of endogenous BMP and supplemented FGF in inducing differentiation of hepatocytes from hES cells and the ability to shift developmental pathways from hepatic to pancreatic cell differentiation. Although additional signals appear to be required for full specification of PDX1(+) early pancreatic progenitors (via PTF1a and NKX6.1 coexpression), these findings indicate the signaling pathways required for differentiation of bipotential progenitors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / physiology
  • Carrier Proteins / physiology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Endoderm / cytology
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 10 / pharmacology
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / physiology*
  • Hepatocytes / cytology*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / physiology
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / cytology*
  • Intestines / embryology
  • Retinoids / physiology*
  • Trans-Activators / physiology


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Carrier Proteins
  • FGF10 protein, human
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 10
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Retinoids
  • Trans-Activators
  • pancreatic and duodenal homeobox 1 protein
  • noggin protein
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors