Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are pluripotent cells with great therapeutic potentials. The in vitro differentiation of ESC was designed by recapitulating embryogenesis. Significant progress has been made to improve the in vitro differentiation protocols by toning soluble maintenance factors. However, more robust methods for lineage-specific differentiation and maturation are still under development. Considering the complexity of in vivo embryogenesis environment, extracellular matrix (ECM) cues should be considered besides growth factor cues. ECM proteins bind to cells and act as ligands of integrin receptors on cell surfaces. Here, we summarize the role of the ECM and integrins in the formation of three germ layer progenies. Various ECM-integrin interactions were found, facilitating differentiation toward definitive endoderm, hepatocyte-like cells, pancreatic beta cells, early mesodermal progenitors, cardiomyocytes, neuroectoderm lineages, and epidermal cells, such as keratinocytes and melanocytes. In the future, ECM combinations for the optimal ESC differentiation environment will require substantial study.
Keywords: differentiation; embryonic stem cells; extracellular matrix; integrin; microenvironment; regeneration.