Embryos allocate cells to the three germ layers in a spatially ordered sequence. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) can generate the three germ layers in culture; however, differentiation is typically heterogeneous and spatially disordered. We show that geometric confinement is sufficient to trigger self-organized patterning in hESCs. In response to BMP4, colonies reproducibly differentiated to an outer trophectoderm-like ring, an inner ectodermal circle and a ring of mesendoderm expressing primitive-streak markers in between. Fates were defined relative to the boundary with a fixed length scale: small colonies corresponded to the outer layers of larger ones. Inhibitory signals limited the range of BMP4 signaling to the colony edge and induced a gradient of Activin-Nodal signaling that patterned mesendodermal fates. These results demonstrate that the intrinsic tendency of stem cells to make patterns can be harnessed by controlling colony geometries and provide a quantitative assay for studying paracrine signaling in early development.
At a glance
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- Supplementary Text and Figures (30,019 KB)
Supplementary Figures 1–12 and Supplementary Table 1