Formation of mesoderm derived blood islands in the mouse embryonic yolk sac requires the presence of visceral endoderm (VE) and VE derived factors. Murine embryonic stem (ES) cells can be differentiated into embryoid bodies (EBs) which serve as an in vitro model recapitulating many embryonic developmental processes, including formation of early hematopoietic cells. Previous investigators have reported that differentiation of ES cells deficient in either GATA-4 or GATA-6 results in EBs with disrupted differentiation of visceral endoderm and defective blood island formation. In the current study, we have compared GATA-4 and GATA-6 null ES cell derived EBs to wild-type EBs in their ability to commit to early hematopoietic lineages using hematopoietic progenitor colony assays, and used RT-PCR to assess the expression of endoderm genes. As expected, we observed differences in expression of endoderm genes in wild-type and GATA-4 or GATA-6 null EBs. Blast colony forming cell assays and primitive erythroid progenitor assays revealed no difference in the ability of wild-type and GATA-4 or GATA-6 null EBs to form hemangioblast or primitive erythroid progenitor colonies. In contrast, comparisons of definitive hematopoietic progenitor colonies from day 8, 9 and 10 GATA-4 and GATA-6 null EBs revealed a significant reduction in colony numbers at day 8 (p-values < 0.05) compared to wild-type. Strikingly, definitive progenitor colony numbers are rescued nearly to wild-type levels after the addition of the visceral endoderm derived factor vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) during EB differentiation. Furthermore, this rescue response can be blocked by the addition of soluble Flk-1 (VEGF receptor) to EB cultures. These results suggest that GATA-4 and GATA-6 transcription factors and/or visceral endoderm are not necessary for hemangioblast, primitive erythroid, or definitive progenitor emergence from EBs but play a role in definitive progenitor expansion in EBs.

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Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.