In vitro culture and characterization of putative porcine embryonic germ cells derived from domestic breeds and Yucatan mini pig embryos at Days 20-24 of gestation

Embryonic germ cells (EGC) are cultured pluripotent cells derived from primordial germ cells (PGC). This study explored the possibility of establishing porcine EGC from domestic breeds and Yucatan mini pigs using embryos at Days 17-24 of gestation. In vitro culture of PGC from both pooled and individual embryos resulted in the successful derivation of putative EGC lines from Days 20 to 24 with high efficiency. RT-PCR showed that gene expression among all 31 obtained cell lines was very similar, and only minor changes were detected during in vitro passaging of the cells. Genome-wide RNA-Seq expression profiling showed no expression of the core pluripotency markers OCT4, SOX2, and NANOG, although most other pluripotency genes were expressed at levels comparable to those of mouse embryonic stem cells (ESC). Moreover, germ-specific genes such as BLIMP1 retained their expression. Functional annotation clustering of the gene expression pattern of the putative EGC suggests partial differentiation toward endo/mesodermal lineages. The putative EGC were able to form embryoid bodies in suspension culture and to differentiate into epithelial-like, mesenchymal-like, and neuronal-like cells. However, their injection into immunodeficient mice did not result in teratoma formation. Our results suggest that the PGC-derived cells described in this study are EGC-like, but seem to be multipotent rather than pluripotent cells. Nevertheless, the thorough characterization of these cells in this study, and especially the identification of various genes and pathways involved in pluripotency by RNA-Seq, will serve as a rich resource for further derivation of porcine EGC.



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