Pluripotent stem cell lines with similar phenotypes can be derived from both blastocysts (embryonic stem cells, ESC) and primordial germ cells (embryonic germ cells, EGC). Here, we present a compendium DNA microarray analysis of multiple mouse ESCs and EGCs from different genetic backgrounds (strains 129 and C57BL/6) cultured under standard conditions and in differentiation-promoting conditions by the withdrawal of Leukemia Inhibitory Factor (LIF) or treatment with retinoic acid (RA). All pluripotent cell lines showed similar gene expression patterns, which separated them clearly from other tissue stem cells with lower developmental potency. Differences between pluripotent lines derived from different sources (ESC vs. EGC) were smaller than differences between lines derived from different mouse strains (129 vs. C57BL/6). Even in the differentiation-promoting conditions, these pluripotent cells showed the same general trends of gene expression changes regardless of their origin and genetic background. These data indicate that ESCs and EGCs are indistinguishable based on global gene expression patterns alone. On the other hand, a detailed comparison between a group of ESC lines and a group of EGC lines identified 20 signature genes whose average expression levels were consistently higher in ESC lines, and 84 signature genes whose average expression levels were consistently higher in EGC lines, irrespective of mouse strains. Similar analysis identified 250 signature genes whose average expression levels were consistently higher in a group of 129 cell lines, and 337 signature genes whose average expression levels were consistently higher in a group of C57BL/6 cell lines. Although none of the genes was exclusively expressed in either ESCs versus EGCs or 129 versus C57BL/6, in combination these signature genes provide a reliable separation and identification of each cell type. Differentiation-promoting conditions also revealed some minor differences between the cell lines. For example, in the presence of RA, EGCs showed a lower expression of muscle- and cardiac-related genes and a higher expression of gonad-related genes than ESCs. Taken together, the results provide a rich source of information about the similarities and differences between ESCs and EGCs as well as 129 lines and C57BL/6 lines. Such information will be crucial to our understanding of pluripotent stem cells. The results also underscore the importance of studying multiple cell lines from different strains when making comparisons based on gene expression analysis.
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