To understand global features of gene expression changes during in vitro neural differentiation, we carried out the microarray analysis of embryonic stem cells (ESCs), embryonal carcinoma cells, and adult neural stem/progenitor (NS) cells. Expression profiling of ESCs during differentiation in monolayer culture revealed three distinct phases: undifferentiated ESCs, primitive ectoderm-like cells, and neural progenitor cells. Principal component (PC) analysis revealed that these cells were aligned on PC1 over the course of 6 days. This PC1 represents approximately 4,000 genes, the expression of which increased with neural commitment/differentiation. Furthermore, NS cells derived from adult brain and their differentiated cells were positioned along this PC axis further away from undifferentiated ESCs than embryonic stem-derived neural progenitors. We suggest that this PC1 defines a path to neural fate, providing a scale for the degree of commitment/differentiation.
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