Most cells in tissues contact an extracellular matrix on at least one surface. These complex mixtures of interacting proteins provide structural support and biological signals that regulate cell differentiation and may be important for stem cell differentiation. In this study, we have grown a rhesus monkey embryonic stem cell line in the presence of various extracellular matrix components in monolayer, in a NASA-developed rotating wall vessel bioreactor in vitro, and subcutaneously in vivo. We find that individual components of the extracellular matrix, such as laminin-1 or collagen 1, do not influence the growth or morphology of the cells. In contrast, a basement membrane extract, Matrigel, containing multiple extracellular matrix components, induces the cells within 4 days to form immature glandular- and tubular-like structures, many of which contain a lumen with polarized epithelium and microvilli. Such structures were seen in vitro when the cells were grown in the bioreactor and when the cells were injected into mice. These tubular- and glandular-like structures were polarized epithelia based on immunostaining for laminin and cytokeratin. The cell aggregates and tumors also contained additional mixed populations of cells, including mesenchymal cells and neuronal cells, based on immunostaining with vimentin and neuronal markers. An extract of cartilage, containing multiple cartilage matrix components, promoted chondrogenesis in vivo where alcian blue-stained cartilage nodules could be observed. Some of these nodules stained with von Kossa, indicating that they had formed calcified cartilage. We conclude that extracellular matrices can promote the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into differentiated cells and structures that are similar to the tissue from which the matrix is derived. Such preprogramming of cell differentiation with extracellular matrices may be useful in targeting stem cells to repair specific damaged organs.
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