Embryonic stem (ES) cells have the potential to develop into all cell types of the adult body. This capability provides the basis for considering the ES cell system as a novel and unlimited source of cells for replacement therapies for the treatment of a wide range of diseases. Before the cell-based therapy potential of ES cells can be realized, a better understanding of the pathways regulating lineage-specific differentiation is required. Current studies suggest that the bone morphogenic protein, transforming growth factor-β, Wnt, and fibroblast growth factor pathways that are required for gastrulation and germ layer induction in the embryo are also essential for differentiation of ES cells in culture. The current understanding of how these factors influence germ layer induction in both the embryo and in the ES cell differentiation system is addressed in this review. © 2005 International Society for Experimental Hematology. Published by Elsevier Inc.
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