Genome-wide analysis reveals the unique stem cell identity of human amniocytes

PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e53372. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053372. Epub 2013 Jan 10.


Human amniotic fluid contains cells that potentially have important stem cell characteristics, yet the programs controlling their developmental potency are unclear. Here, we provide evidence that amniocytes derived from multiple patients are marked by heterogeneity and variability in expression levels of pluripotency markers. Clonal analysis from multiple patients indicates that amniocytes have large pools of self-renewing cells that have an inherent property to give rise to a distinct amniocyte phenotype with a heterogeneity of pluripotent markers. Significant to their therapeutic potential, genome-wide profiles are distinct at different gestational ages and times in culture, but do not differ between genders. Based on hierarchical clustering and differential expression analyses of the entire transcriptome, amniocytes express canonical regulators associated with pluripotency and stem cell repression. Their profiles are distinct from human embryonic stem cells (ESCs), induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and newborn foreskin fibroblasts. Amniocytes have a complex molecular signature, coexpressing trophoblastic, ectodermal, mesodermal, and endodermal cell-type-specific regulators. In contrast to the current view of the ground state of stem cells, ESCs and iPSCs also express high levels of a wide range of cell-type-specific regulators. The coexpression of multilineage differentiation markers combined with the strong expression of a subset of ES cell repressors in amniocytes suggests that these cells have a distinct phenotype that is unlike any other known cell-type or lineage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amniotic Fluid / cytology*
  • Antigens, Surface / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cell Lineage / genetics
  • Cell Separation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Transcriptome / genetics


  • Antigens, Surface
  • Biomarkers
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Transcription Factors