Live Imaging Reveals that the First Division of Differentiating Human Embryonic Stem Cells Often Yields Asymmetric Fates
How do stem cells respond to signals to initiate differentiation? Here, we show that, despite uniform exposure to differentiation-inducing extracellular signals, individual human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) respond heterogeneously. To track how hESCs incipiently exit pluripotency, we established a system to differentiate hESCs as single cells and conducted live imaging to track their very first cell division. We followed the fate of their earliest daughters as they remained undifferentiated or differentiated toward the primitive streak (the earliest descendants of pluripotent cells). About 30%–50% of the time, hESCs divided to yield one primitive streak and one undifferentiated daughter. The undifferentiated daughter cell was innately resistant to WNT signaling and could not respond to this primitive-streak-specifying differentiation signal. Hence, the first division of differentiating hESCs sometimes yields daughters with diverging fates, with implications for the efficiency of directed differentiation protocols and the underlying rules of lineage commitment.
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