Individual Cell Movement, Asymmetric Colony Expansion, Rho-Associated Kinase, and E-Cadherin Impact the Clonogenicity of Human Embryonic Stem Cells
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Clonality is, at present, the only means by which the self-renewal potential of a given stem cell can be determined. To assess the clonality of human embryonic stem cells (hESC), a protocol involving seeding wells at low cell densities is commonly used to surmount poor cloning efficiencies. However, factors influencing the accuracy of such an assay have not been fully elucidated. Using clonogenic assays together with time-lapse microscopy, numerical analyses, and regulated gene expression strategies, we found that individual and collective cell movements are inherent properties of hESCs and that they markedly impact the accuracy of clonogenic assays. Analyses of cell motility using mean-square displacement and paired migration correlation indicated that cell movements become more straight-line or ballistic and less random-walk as separation distance decreases. Such motility-induced reaggregation (rather than a true clone) occurs approximately 70% of the time if the distance between two hESCs is <6.4 mum, and is not observed if the distance is >150 mum. Furthermore, newly formed small hESC colonies have a predisposition toward the formation of larger colonies through asymmetric colony expansion and movement, which would not accurately reflect self-renewal and proliferative activity of a true hESC clone. Notably, inhibition of Rho-associated kinase markedly upregulated hESC migration and reaggregation, producing considerable numbers of false-positive colonies. Conversely, E-cadherin upregulation significantly augmented hESC clonogenicity via improved survival of single hESCs without influencing cell motility. This work reveals that individual cell movement, asymmetric colony expansion, Rho-associated kinase, and E-cadherin all work together to influence hESC clonogenicity, and provides additional guidance for improvement of clonogenic assays in the analysis of hESC self-renewal.
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