Stem Cell Reviews and Reports

, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 569–577 | Cite as

Role of BMP Signaling in Pancreatic Progenitor Differentiation from Human Embryonic Stem Cells

  • Lina Sui
  • Mieke Geens
  • Karen Sermon
  • Luc BouwensEmail author
  • Josué Kunjom MfopouEmail author


Transplantation of pancreatic progenitors derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) is a promising way to treat diabetes. Strategies to obtain the required cell mass would rely on the up scaling of current differentiation protocols, or the proliferation of committed progenitors. We aimed at finding conditions that maintain a proliferating pancreatic progenitor pool and we assessed the role of BMP4 signaling in this process. hESCs were differentiated into PDX1 positive pancreatic progenitor stage following our established protocol with few modifications, and then the progenitor cells were passaged in a defined proliferation medium (PM). During passage, the effect of BMP4 signaling on the differentiation and proliferation of pancreatic progenitors was examined by RT-PCR and immunofluorescence analysis. We found that PDX1 positive pancreatic progenitors proliferated and gained NKX6.1 expression in the PM, whereas they failed to express NKX6.1 if BMP signaling was inhibited with Noggin. In this latter condition, part of the progenitors rather generated pro-endocrine cells denoted by NGN3 and synaptophysin expression. On the contrary, addition of BMP4 to the PM promoted the early derivation of PDX1 and NKX6.1 coexpressing pancreatic progenitors. Our findings are in line with mouse pancreas development, and indicate that BMP4 signaling is required for the derivation and maintenance of hESC-derived PDX1+NKX6.1+ pancreatic progenitors. These results are instructive for guiding the development of an efficient pancreas differentiation protocol in view of diabetes cell replacement therapy.


hESCs Pancreatic progenitors Proliferation BMP4 



Definitive endoderm


PDX1 positive pancreatic progenitor


PDX1 or NKX6.1 positive pancreatic progenitor


PDX1 and NKX6.1 coexpressing pancreatic progenitor


Passage number






Proliferation medium



The authors thank E. De Blay, M. Baekeland and W. Rabiot for technical assistance. They are also grateful to A.K. Baczmanska and K. Dee for the maintenance of undifferentiated hESCs cultures. L. Sui is a recipient of the CSC scholarship (China). J.K. Mfopou is a postdoc fellow of the VUB. This work was supported by a Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) research grant under the code GOA41.

Contribution statement

LS designed and conducted the study, analyzed the results, wrote and approved the final manuscript. MG and KS provided the hESC line and approved the final manuscript. LB contributed to study design, reviewed and discussed the data, critically reviewed and approved the final manuscript. JKM designed the study, reviewed and discussed the data, wrote and approved the final manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest associated with this manuscript.

Supplementary material

12015_2013_9435_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (7.7 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 7.73 MB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cell Differentiation Unit, Diabetes Research CenterVrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)BrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Embryology and GeneticsVrije Universiteit BrusselBrusselsBelgium

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