hESCs (human embryonic stem cells) have enormous potential for use in pharmaceutical development and therapeutics; however, to realize this potential, there is a requirement for simple and reproducible cell culture methods that provide adequate numbers of cells of suitable quality. We have discovered a novel way of blocking the spontaneous differentiation of hESCs in the absence of exogenous cytokines by supplementing feeder-free conditions with EHNA [erythro-9-(2-hydroxy-3-nonyl)adenine], an established inhibitor of ADA (adenosine deaminase) and cyclic nucleotide PDE2 (phosphodiesterase 2). hESCs maintained in feeder-free conditions with EHNA for more than ten passages showed no reduction in hESC-associated markers including NANOG, POU5F1 (POU domain class 5 transcription factor 1, also known as Oct-4) and SSEA4 (stage-specific embryonic antigen 4) compared with cells maintained in feeder-free conditions containing bFGF (basic fibroblast growth factor). Spontaneous differentiation was reversibly suppressed by the addition of EHNA, but, upon removing EHNA, hESC populations underwent efficient spontaneous, multi-lineage and directed differentiation. EHNA also acts as a strong blocker of directed neuronal differentiation. Chemically distinct inhibitors of ADA and PDE2 lacked the capacity of EHNA to suppress hESC differentiation, suggesting that the effect is not driven by inhibition of either ADA or PDE2. Preliminary structure-activity relationship analysis found the differentiation-blocking properties of EHNA to reside in a pharmacophore comprising a close adenine mimetic with an extended hydrophobic substituent in the 8- or 9-position. We conclude that EHNA and simple 9-alkyladenines can block directed neuronal and spontaneous differentiation in the absence of exogenous cytokine addition, and may provide a useful replacement for bFGF in large-scale or cGMP-compliant processes. © The Authors Journal compilation © 2010 Biochemical Society.
- Adenosine deaminase (ADA)
- Cell culture
- erythro-9-(2- hydroxy-3-nonyl)adenine (EHNA)
- Fibroblast growth factor
- Human embryonic stem cell