Developmental Potential of Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells

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Embryonic stem (ES) cells are pluripotent cell lines that have been derived from the inner cell mass (ICM) of the mouse blastocyst in tissue culture. When maintained on feeder layers or in the presence of leukemia inhibitory factor (1, 2), ES cells retain an undifferentiated phenotype, but when culture conditions are altered or the cells are transplanted into ectopic sites in adult animals, the cells can differentiate into a wide variety of different cell types (3,4). Furthermore, ES cells can contribute to normal development of both somatic and germline tissues when injected into blastocysts (5). The ability to take a cell line from culture and introduce its genotype into the mouse gene pool has opened up whole new areas of genetic investigation in mammals (reviewed in 6, 7). Any kind of genetic manipulation that can be performed on somatic cell lines can also be performed on ES cells, with the advantage that the effects of such manipulation can be assessed in the intact animal.