During the development of a multicellular organism, the specification of different cell lineages originates in a small group of pluripotent cells, the epiblasts, formed in the preimplantation embryo. The pluripotent epiblast is protected from premature differentiation until exposure to inductive cues in strictly controlled spatially and temporally organized patterns guiding fetus formation. Epiblasts cultured in vitro are embryonic stem cells (ESCs), which recapitulate the self-renewal and lineage specification properties of their endogenous counterparts. The characteristics of totipotency, although less understood than pluripotency, are becoming clearer. Recent studies have shown that a minor ESC subpopulation exhibits expanded developmental potential beyond pluripotency, displaying a characteristic reminiscent of two-cell embryo blastomeres (2CLCs). In addition, reprogramming both mouse and human ESCs in defined media can produce expanded/extended pluripotent stem cells (EPSCs) similar to but different from 2CLCs. Further, the molecular roadmaps driving the transition of various potency states have been clarified. These recent key findings will allow us to understand eutherian mammalian development by comparing the underlying differences between potency network components during development. Using the mouse as a paradigm and recent progress in human PSCs, we review the epiblast's identity acquisition during embryogenesis and their ESC counterparts regarding their pluripotent fates and beyond.
Keywords: embryo stem cell (ESC); embryonal carcinoma (EC); epiblast; epiblast stem cell (EpiSC); extended/expanded potential stem cells (EPSCs); formative cell (FC); inner cell mass (ICM); pluripotency; primitive endoderm (PrE).