Nitric oxide releasing hydrogel promotes endothelial differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells

Acta Biomater. 2017 Nov;63:190-199. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2017.08.037. Epub 2017 Aug 30.


Transplantation of endothelial cells (ECs) holds great promise for treating various kinds of ischemic diseases. However, the major challenge in ECs-based therapy in clinical applications is to provide high quality and enough amounts of cells. In this study, we developed a simple and efficient system to direct endothelial differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) using a controllable chitosan nitric oxide (NO)-releasing hydrogel (CS-NO). ESCs were plated onto the hydrogel culture system, and the expressions of differentiation markers were measured. We found that the expression of Flk-1 (early ECs marker) and VE-cadherin (mature ECs marker) increased obviously under the controlled NO releasing environment. Moreover, the Flk-1 upregulation was accompanied by the activation of the phospho-inositide-3 kinase (PI3K)/Akt signaling. We also found that in the presence of the PI3K inhibitor (LY294002), the endothelial commitment of ESCs was abolished, indicating the importance of Akt phosphorylation in the endothelial differentiation of ESCs. Interestingly, in the absence of NO, the activation of Akt phosphorylation alone by using AKT activator (SC-79) did not profoundly promote the endothelial differentiation of ESCs, suggesting an interdependent relationship between NO and the Akt phosphorylation in driving endothelial fate specification of ESCs. Taken together, we demonstrated that NO releasing in a continuous and controlled manner is a simple and efficient method for directing the endothelial differentiation of ESCs without adding growth factors.

Statement of significance: Fascinating data continues to show that artificial stem cell niche not only serve as a physical supporting scaffold for stem cells proliferation, but also as a novel platform for directing stem cell differentiation. Because of the lack of proper microenvironment for generating therapeutic endothelial cells (ECs) in vitro, the source of ECs for transplantation is the major limitation in ECs-based therapy to clinical applications. The current study established a feeder cell-free, 2-dimensional culture system for promoting the differentiation processes of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) committed to the endothelial lineage via using a nitric oxide (NO) controlled releasing hydrogel (CS-NO). Notably, the NO releasing from the hydrogel could selectively up-regulate Flk-1 (early ECs marker) and VE-cadherin (mature ECs marker) in the absence of growth factors, which was of crucial importance in the endothelial differentiation of ESCs. In summary, the current study proposes a simple and efficient method for directing the endothelial differentiation of ESCs without extra growth factors.

Keywords: Embryonic stem cell; Endothelial differentiation; Hydrogel; Nitric oxide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Down-Regulation / genetics
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology*
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Hydrogel, Polyethylene Glycol Dimethacrylate / chemistry*
  • Mice
  • Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Nitric Oxide / pharmacology*
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects
  • Up-Regulation / genetics


  • Transcription Factors
  • Hydrogel, Polyethylene Glycol Dimethacrylate
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt