Embryonic Stem cells derived from the epiblast tissue of the mammalian blastocyst retain the capability to differentiate into any adult cell type and are able to self-renew indefinitely under appropriate culture conditions. Despite the large amount of knowledge that we have accumulated to date about the regulation and control of self-renewal, efficient directed differentiation into specific tissues remains elusive. In this work, we have analysed in a systematic manner the interaction between the dynamics of loss of pluripotency and Activin/Nodal, BMP4 and Wnt signalling in fate assignment during the early stages of differentiation of mouse ES cells in culture. During the initial period of differentiation, cells exit from pluripotency and enter an Epi-like state. Following this transient stage, and under the influence of Activin/Nodal and BMP signalling, cells face a fate choice between differentiating into neuroectoderm and contributing to Primitive Streak fates. We find that Wnt signalling does not suppress neural development as previously thought and that it aids both fates in a context dependent manner. Our results suggest that as cells exit pluripotency they are endowed with a primary neuroectodermal fate and that the potency to become endomesodermal rises with time. We suggest that this situation translates into a "race for fates" in which the neuroectodermal fate has an advantage.
Keywords: Activin/Nodal and BMP signalling; Cell differentiation; Cell fate decision making; Mouse embryonic stem cell; Pluripotency; Single cell analysis; Wnt/β-catenin signalling.
© 2014. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.