The development of cell therapeutics from embryonic stem (ES) cells will require technologies that direct cell differentiation to specific somatic cell lineages in response to defined factors. The initial step in formation of the somatic lineages from ES cells, differentiation to an intermediate, pluripotent primitive ectoderm-like cell, can be achieved in vitro by formation of early primitive ectoderm-like (EPL) cells in response to a biological activity contained within the conditioned medium MEDII. Fractionation of MEDII has identified two activities required for EPL cell formation, an activity with a molecular mass of <3 kDa and a second, much larger species. Here, we have identified the low-molecular-weight activity as L-proline. An inhibitor of L-proline uptake, glycine, prevented the differentiation of ES cells in response to MEDII. Supplementation of the culture medium of ES cells with >100 M L-proline and some L-proline-containing peptides resulted in changes in colony morphology, cell proliferation, gene expression, and differentiation kinetics consistent with differentiation toward a primitive ectoderm-like cell. This activity appeared to be associated with L-proline since other amino acids and analogs of proline did not exhibit an equivalent activity. Activation of the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway was found to be necessary but not sufficient for L-proline activity; addition of other activators of the mTOR signaling pathway failed to alter the ES cell phenotype. This is the first report describing a role for amino acids in the regulation of pluripotency and cell differentiation and identifies a novel role for the imino acid L-proline.
- Embryonic stem cells
- Primitive ectoderm