During embryogenesis the central and peripheral nervous systems arise from a neural precursor population, neurectoderm, formed during gastrulation. We demonstrate the differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells to neurectoderm in culture, in a manner which recapitulates embryogenesis, with the sequential and homogeneous formation of primitive ectoderm, neural plate and neural tube. Formation of neurectoderm occurs in the absence of extraembryonic endoderm or mesoderm and results in a stratified epithelium of cells with morphology, gene expression and differentiation potential consistent with positionally unspecified neural tube. Differentiation of this population to homogeneous populations of neural crest or glia was also achieved. Neurectoderm formation in culture allows elucidation of signals involved in neural specification and generation of implantable cell populations for therapeutic use.
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