Generation of organized germ layers from a single mouse embryonic stem cell

Yeh Chuin Poh, Junwei Chen, Ying Hong, Haiying Yi, Shuang Zhang, Junjian Chen, Douglas C. Wu, Lili Wang, Qiong Jia, Rishi Singh, Wenting Yao, Youhua Tan, Arash Tajik, Tetsuya S. Tanaka, Ning Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mammalian inner cell mass cells undergo lineage-specific differentiation into germ layers of endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm during gastrulation. It has been a long-standing challenge in developmental biology to replicate these organized germ layer patterns in culture. Here we present a method of generating organized germ layers from a single mouse embryonic stem cell cultured in a soft fibrin matrix. Spatial organization of germ layers is regulated by cortical tension of the colony, matrix dimensionality and softness, and cell-cell adhesion. Remarkably, anchorage of the embryoid colony from the 3D matrix to collagen-1-coated 2D substrates of ∼1 kPa results in self-organization of all three germ layers: ectoderm on the outside layer, mesoderm in the middle and endoderm at the centre of the colony, reminiscent of generalized gastrulating chordate embryos. These results suggest that mechanical forces via cell-matrix and cell-cell interactions are crucial in spatial organization of germ layers during mammalian gastrulation. This new in vitro method could be used to gain insights on the mechanisms responsible for the regulation of germ layer formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4000
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - May 29 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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