Previous studies have shown that maintenance of undifferentiated human embryonic stem (hES) cells requires culture on mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) feeders. Here we demonstrate a successful feeder-free hES culture system in which undifferentiated cells can be maintained for at least 130 population doublings. In this system, hES cells are cultured on Matrigel or laminin in medium conditioned by MEF. The hES cells maintained on feeders or off feeders express integrin α6 and β1, which may form a laminin-specific receptor. The hES cell populations in feeder-free conditions maintained a normal karyotype, stable proliferation rate, and high telomerase activity. Similar to cells cultured on feeders, hES cells maintained under feeder-free conditions expressed OCT-4, hTERT, alkaline phosphatase, and surface markers including SSEA-4, Tra 1-60, and Tra 1-81. In addition, hES cells maintained without direct feeder contact formed teratomas in SCID/beige mice and differentiated in vitro into cells from all three germ layers. Thus, the cells retain fundamental characteristics of hES cells in this culture system and are suitable for scaleup production.
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We thank Mohammad Hassanipour for technical assistance, Dr. Ram Mandalam for evaluating frozen CM, Drs. Choy-Pik Chiu, Calvin Harley, and Jane Lebkowski for insightful discussions and critical review of the manuscript, Dr. Peter Andrews (University of Sheffield, UK) for Tra 1-81 and Tra 1-60 antibodies, and Hybridoma Bank (Iowa City, IA) for SSEA-1 and SSEA-4 antibodies.
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