A single cell transcriptional portrait of embryoid body differentiation and comparison to progenitors of the developing embryo

Stem Cell Res. 2018 Aug;31:201-215. doi: 10.1016/j.scr.2018.07.022. Epub 2018 Jul 29.


Directed differentiation of pluripotent stem cells provides an accessible system to model development. However, the distinct cell types that emerge, their dynamics, and their relationship to progenitors in the early embryo has been difficult to decipher because of the cellular heterogeneity inherent to differentiation. Here, we used a combination of bulk RNA-Seq, single cell RNA-Seq, and bioinformatics analyses to dissect the cell types that emerge during directed differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells as embryoid bodies and we compared them to spatially and temporally resolved transcriptional profiles of early embryos. Our single cell analyses of the day 4 embryoid bodies revealed three populations which had retained related yet distinct pluripotent signatures that resemble the pre- or post-implantation epiblast, one population of presumptive neuroectoderm, one population of mesendoderm, and four populations of neural progenitors. By day 6, the neural progenitors predominated the embryoid bodies, but both a small population of pluripotent-like cells and an anterior mesoderm-like Brachyury-expressing population were present. By comparing the day 4 and day 6 populations, we identified candidate differentiation paths, transcription factors, and signaling pathways that mark the in vitro correlate of the transition from the mid-to-late primitive streak stage.

Keywords: Directed differentiation; Embryoid body; Mesendoderm; Neuroectoderm; Noggin; Single cell rna-seq; Transcriptional profiling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation
  • Embryoid Bodies / physiology*
  • Embryonic Development / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mesoderm / metabolism*