Int. J. Dev. Biol. 45: 421 - 429 (2001)
© UPV/EHU Press

Lithium influences differentiation and tissue-specific gene expression of mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells in vitro.

M M Schmidt, K Guan and A M Wobus

In Vitro Differentiation Group, IPK Gatersleben, Germany.

ABSTRACT The effects of lithium chloride (LiCl) on differentiation of mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells were investigated in order to evaluate the ES cell test (EST) used in a European Union validation study for screening of embryotoxic agents in vitro. We show that LiCl inhibited concentration-dependently the differentiation of ES cells into cardiac and myogenic cells. Whereas the inhibition of cardiac differentiation by high concentrations of LiCl was obvious at day 5 + 5, decreased skeletal muscle cell differentiation was observed only at day 5 + 8. Semi-quantitative RT-PCR analyses revealed significantly lower levels of mRNA encoding cardiac-specific alpha-myosin heavy chain and skeletal muscle-specific myoD. By morphological investigation, an influence of lithium on neuronal differentiation was not evident. However, mRNA levels of genes encoding synaptophysin and the 160 kDa neurofilament protein were increased by high LiCl concentrations, whereas mRNA levels of mash-1 and Engrailed-1 were decreased, suggesting a specific influence of lithium on neuronal differentiation. Furthermore, LiCl treatment resulted in a slight, but non-significant increase of beta-catenin levels in ES cell-derived embryoid bodies. Our results demonstrate that the ES cell test, EST may be suitable to detect inhibitory effects of test compounds especially on cardiac differentiation, whereas effects on neuronal cells would not be detected. Therefore, we propose that morphological analyses of cardiac differentiation alone are insufficient to detect embryotoxic effects. The assay of other cell lineages at different developmental stages, and expression analyses of tissue-specific genes should also be employed.