Murine embryonic stem (ES) cells may be of potential use for cell replacement and gene therapy. Maintenance of ES cells in an undifferentiated and proliferative state depends on cytokines either secreted by ES cells and/or added to the medium. By understanding the production and release of cytokines in ES cell culture, it may be possible to enhance use of ES cells for clinical usage. Our previous studies indicated that SDF-1/CXCL12, secreted by ES cells, enhances survival, chemotaxis, and hematopoietic differentiation of murine ES cells (Guo et al, Stem cells, in press, 2005). To evaluate whether other cytokines were produced by murine ES cells, we generated conditioned medium (CM) from these cells in the presence of LIF, while the ES cells were in an undifferentiated Oct-4 expressing state, and assayed the CM for cytokines, chemokines, and other growth modulatory factors. ES cell CM enhanced survival in vitro of ES cells subjected to delayed addition of serum to ES cell cultures. Without serum, ES cells didn’t grow in low cell density. However, with CM, ES cells formed colonies at about 63% of the growth of the ES cells in the presence of serum. ES cell CM also enhanced survival of normal murine bone marrow myeloid progenitors (CFU-GM) subjected to delayed growth factor addition in vitro and decreased the rate of apoptosis in murine bone marrow c-kit+lin cells as assessed by Annexin V assay. Our data showed ES cell CM contained IL-1α, IL-10, IL-11, M-CSF, OSM, SCF, VEGF, as well as a number of chemokines and other proteins. For a number of these proteins, we have already verified that the mRNA for them is expressed in the ES cells. This indicates that ES cells produce and secrete these cytokines. Some of these cytokines are known to have an enhanced survival/antiapoptosis effect on progenitors. IL-6, FGF-9, and TNF-a, which were not detected prior to irradiation of the ES cells, were seen after ES cells were irradiated. Irradiation of the ES cells enhanced release of some proteins and decreased release of others. ES cell CM also stimulated CFU-GM colony formation. Thus, undifferentiated murine ES cells growing in the presence of LIF produce/release a number of biologically active interleukins, CSFs, chemokines, and other growth modulatory proteins. Oct-4 is a marker for undifferentiated ES cells. We wondered if Oct-4 might be a key player for cytokines released from ES cells which supported CFU-GM survival and antiapoptosis. Oct-4 conditional knockout cell line ZHBtc4, received from Dr Austin Smith, was used. CM from the wild type ES cell line enhanced survival of CFU-GM similar to that of other ES cell lines, while the Oct-4 knockout ES cell line didn’t. These results indicate that release of proteins involved in survival enhancement may be related to Oct-4 expression. We also found that the wild type cell line which expressed Oct-4 didn’t initiate caspase 3 dependent apoptosis after mitotic stress. However ZHBTc4, the Oct-4 deleted cell line demonstrated caspase 3 dependent apoptosis. These results may be of physiological significance, although this has not yet been proven, and suggest the possibility of potential future applicability for use of irradiated ES cells as accessory cells for growth modulation in vitro and in vivo.

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