PAX4 Enhances Beta-Cell Differentiation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Liew, Chee Gee, Shah, Nadia Nisa, Briston, Sarah J., Shepherd, Ruth M., Khoo, Cheen Peen, Dunne, Mark J., Moore, Harry D., Cosgrove, Karen E. and Andrews, Peter W. (2008) PAX4 Enhances Beta-Cell Differentiation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells. PLoS ONE, 3 (3). e1783-e1783.

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Human embryonic stem cells (HESC) readily differentiate into an apparently haphazard array of cell types, corresponding to all three germ layers, when their culture conditions are altered, for example by growth in suspension as aggregates known as embryoid bodies (EBs). However, this diversity of differentiation means that the efficiency of producing any one particular cell type is inevitably low. Although pancreatic differentiation has been reported from HESC, practicable applications for the use of β-cells derived from HESC to treat diabetes will only be possible once techniques are developed to promote efficient differentiation along the pancreatic lineages.

Methods and Findings

Here, we have tested whether the transcription factor, Pax4 can be used to drive the differentiation of HESC to a β-cell fate in vitro. We constitutively over-expressed Pax4 in HESCs by stable transfection, and used Q-PCR analysis, immunocytochemistry, ELISA, Ca2+ microfluorimetry and cell imaging to assess the role of Pax4 in the differentiation and intracellular Ca2+ homeostasis of β-cells developing in embryoid bodies produced from such HESC. Cells expressing key β-cell markers were isolated by fluorescence-activated cell sorting after staining for high zinc content using the vital dye, Newport Green.


Constitutive expression of Pax4 in HESC substantially enhances their propensity to form putative β-cells. Our findings provide a novel foundation to study the mechanism of pancreatic β-cells differentiation during early human development and to help evaluate strategies for the generation of purified β-cells for future clinical applications

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