Tanycytes have recently been accepted as neural stem/progenitor cells in the postnatal hypothalamus. Persistent retina and anterior neural fold homeobox (Rax) expression is characteristic of tanycytes in contrast to its transient expression of whole hypothalamic precursors. In this study, we found that Rax+ residual cells in the maturation phase of hypothalamic differentiation in mouse embryonic stem cell (mESC) cultures had similar characteristics to ventral tanycytes. They expressed typical neural stem/progenitor cell markers, including Sox2, vimentin, and nestin, and differentiated into mature neurons and glial cells. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis showed that Rax+ residual cells expressed Fgf-10, Fgf-18, and Lhx2, which are expressed by ventral tanycytes. They highly expressed tanycyte-specific genes Dio2 and Gpr50 compared with Rax+ early hypothalamic progenitor cells. Therefore, Rax+ residual cells in the maturation phase of hypothalamic differentiation were considered to be more differentiated and similar to late progenitor cells and tanycytes. They self-renewed and formed neurospheres when cultured with exogenous FGF-2. Additionally, these Rax+ neurospheres differentiated into three neuronal lineages (neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes), including neuropeptide Y+ neuron, that are reported to be differentiated from ventral tanycytes toward the arcuate nuclei. Thus, Rax+ residual cells were multipotent neural stem/progenitor cells. Rax+ neurospheres were stably passaged and retained high Sox2 expression even after multiple passages. These results suggest the successful induction of Rax+ tanycyte-like cells from mESCs [induced tanycyte-like (iTan) cells]. These hypothalamic neural stem/progenitor cells may have potential in regenerative medicine and as a research tool.
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