BMP-4 inhibits neural differentiation of murine embryonic stem cells

Michael F.A. Finley, Sandeep Devata, James E. Huettner

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Members of the transforming growth factor-β superfamily, including bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP-4), have been implicated as regulators of neuronal and glial differentiation. To test for a possible role of BMP-4 in early mammalian neural specification, we examined its effect on neurogenesis in aggregate cultures of mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells. Compared to control aggregates, in which up to 20% of the cells acquired immunoreactivity for the neuron-specific antibody TuJ1, aggregates maintained for 8 days in serum- free medium containing BMP-4 generated 5- to 10-fold fewer neurons. The action of BMP-4 was dose dependent and restricted to the fifth through eighth day in suspension. In addition to the reduction in neurons, we observed that ES cell cultures exposed to BMP-4 contained fewer cells that were immunoreactive for glial fibrillary acidic protein or the HNK-1 neural antigen. Furthermore, under phase contrast, cultures prepared from BMP-4- treated aggregates contained a significant proportion of nonneuronal cells with a characteristic flat, elongated morphology. These cells were immunoreactive for antibodies to the intermediate filament protein vimentin; they were rare or absent in control cultures. Treatment with BMP-4 enhanced the expression of the early mesodermal genes brachyury and tbx6 but had relatively little effect on total cell number or cell death. Coapplication of the BMP-4 antagonist noggin counteracted the effect of exogenous BMP-4, but noggin alone had no effect on neuralization in either the absence or presence of retinoids. Collectively, our results suggest that BMP-4 can overcome the neuralizing action of retinoic acid to enhance mesodermal differentiation of murine ES cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-287
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Neurobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999


  • Induction
  • Noggin
  • Retinoic acid
  • Serum-free
  • TuJ1


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