Self-organization of the human embryo in the absence of maternal tissues

Nat Cell Biol. 2016 Jun;18(6):700-708. doi: 10.1038/ncb3347. Epub 2016 May 4.


Remodelling of the human embryo at implantation is indispensable for successful pregnancy. Yet it has remained mysterious because of the experimental hurdles that beset the study of this developmental phase. Here, we establish an in vitro system to culture human embryos through implantation stages in the absence of maternal tissues and reveal the key events of early human morphogenesis. These include segregation of the pluripotent embryonic and extra-embryonic lineages, and morphogenetic rearrangements leading to generation of a bilaminar disc, formation of a pro-amniotic cavity within the embryonic lineage, appearance of the prospective yolk sac, and trophoblast differentiation. Using human embryos and human pluripotent stem cells, we show that the reorganization of the embryonic lineage is mediated by cellular polarization leading to cavity formation. Together, our results indicate that the critical remodelling events at this stage of human development are embryo-autonomous, highlighting the remarkable and unanticipated self-organizing properties of human embryos.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Cell Lineage / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Embryo Implantation
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Morphogenesis / physiology*
  • Trophoblasts / cytology*
  • Yolk Sac / metabolism*