Embryonic stem cell markers

Molecules. 2012 May 25;17(6):6196-236. doi: 10.3390/molecules17066196.


Embryonic stem cell (ESC) markers are molecules specifically expressed in ES cells. Understanding of the functions of these markers is critical for characterization and elucidation for the mechanism of ESC pluripotent maintenance and self-renewal, therefore helping to accelerate the clinical application of ES cells. Unfortunately, different cell types can share single or sometimes multiple markers; thus the main obstacle in the clinical application of ESC is to purify ES cells from other types of cells, especially tumor cells. Currently, the marker-based flow cytometry (FCM) technique and magnetic cell sorting (MACS) are the most effective cell isolating methods, and a detailed maker list will help to initially identify, as well as isolate ESCs using these methods. In the current review, we discuss a wide range of cell surface and generic molecular markers that are indicative of the undifferentiated ESCs. Other types of molecules, such as lectins and peptides, which bind to ESC via affinity and specificity, are also summarized. In addition, we review several markers that overlap with tumor stem cells (TSCs), which suggest that uncertainty still exists regarding the benefits of using these markers alone or in various combinations when identifying and isolating cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Enzymes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Enzymes
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Peptides
  • Transcription Factors