Understanding how interactions between extracellular signalling pathways and transcription factor networks influence cellular decision making will be crucial for understanding mammalian embryogenesis and for generating specialised cell types in vitro. To this end, pluripotent mouse Embryonic Stem (mES) cells have proven to be a useful model system. However, understanding how transcription factors and signalling pathways affect decisions made by individual cells is confounded by the fact that measurements are generally made on groups of cells, whilst individual mES cells differentiate at different rates and towards different lineages, even in conditions that favour a particular lineage. Here we have used single-cell measurements of transcription factor expression and Wnt/β-catenin signalling activity to investigate their effects on lineage commitment decisions made by individual cells. We find that pluripotent mES cells exhibit differing degrees of heterogeneity in their expression of important regulators from pluripotency, depending on the signalling environment to which they are exposed. As mES cells differentiate, downregulation of Nanog and Oct4 primes cells for neural commitment, whilst loss of Sox2 expression primes cells for primitive streak commitment. Furthermore, we find that Wnt signalling acts through Nanog to direct cells towards a primitive streak fate, but that transcriptionally active β-catenin is associated with both neural and primitive streak commitment. These observations confirm and extend previous suggestions that pluripotency genes influence lineage commitment and demonstrate how their dynamic expression affects the direction of lineage commitment, whilst illustrating two ways in which the Wnt signalling pathway acts on this network during cell fate assignment.
Trott, J., & Arias, A. M. (2013). Single cell lineage analysis of mouse embryonic stem cells at the exit from pluripotency. Biology Open, 2(10), 1049–1056. https://doi.org/10.1242/bio.20135934