EpCAM is involved in maintenance of the murine embryonic stem cell phenotype

Bárbara González, Sabine Denzel, Brigitte Mack, Marcus Conrad, Olivier Gires
Stem Cells 2009, 27 (8): 1782-91
Epithelial cell adhesion molecule EpCAM is a transmembrane glycoprotein that is expressed on subsets of normal epithelia, numerous stem- and progenitor-type cells, and most carcinomas and highly overexpressed on cancer-initiating cells. The role of EpCAM in early development, particularly in stem-like cells, has remained unclear. Here, we show that the maintenance of self-renewal in murine embryonic stem (ES) cells depends on the high-level expression of EpCAM. Cultivation of ES cells under differentiation conditions in the absence of leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) caused down-regulation of EpCAM along with decreased expression of cellular myelocytomatosis oncogene (c-Myc), Sex-determining region Y-Box 2, Octamer 3/4 (Oct3/4), and Stat3. As a consequence ES cells were morphologically differentiated and ceased to proliferate. RNA interference-mediated inhibition of EpCAM expression under self-renewal conditions resulted in quantitatively decreased proliferation, decreased Oct3/4, SSEA-1, and c-Myc expression, and diminished alkaline phosphatase activity. Conversely, exogenous expression of EpCAM partially compensated for the requirement of ES cells for LIF to retain a stem cell phenotype. Thus, murine EpCAM is a transmembrane protein, which is essential but by itself is not sufficient for maintenance of the ES cell phenotype.

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