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Volume 2 (2002), Pages 1762-1773
Review Article

Embryonic Stem Cell Lines of Nonhuman Primates

Department of Development and Differentiation, Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, Kyoto University, 53 Kawaharacho, Shogoin, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8507, Japan

Received 13 December 2001; Revised 9 May 2002; Accepted 15 May 2002

Copyright © 2002 Norio Nakatsuji and Hirofumi Suemori.


Human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines have opened great potential and expectation for cell therapy and regenerative medicine. Monkey and human ES cell lines, which are very similar to each other, have been established from monkey blastocysts and surplus human blastocysts from fertility clinics.

Nonhuman primate ES cell lines provide important research tools for basic and applicative research. Firstly, they provide wider aspects of investigation of the regulative mechanisms of stem cells and cell differentiation among primate species. Secondly, their usage does not need clearance or permission from the regulative rules in many countries that are associated with the ethical aspects of human ES cells, although human and nonhuman embryos and fetuses are very similar to each other. Lastly and most importantly, they are indispensable for animal models of cell therapy to test effectiveness, safety, and immunological reaction of the allogenic transplantation in a setting similar to the treatment of human diseases.

So far, ES cell lines have been established from rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta), common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus), and cynomolgus monkey (Macaca fascicularis), using blastocysts produced naturally or by in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). These cell lines seem to have very similar characteristics. They express alkaline phosphatase activity and stage-specific embryonic antigen (SSEA)-4 and, in most cases, SSEA-3. Their pluripotency was confirmed by the formation of embryoid bodies and differentiation into various cell types in culture and also by the formation of teratomas that contained many types of differentiated tissues including derivatives of three germ layers after transplantation into the severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) mice.

The noneffectiveness of the leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) signal makes culture of primate and human ES cell lines prone to undergo spontaneous differentiation and thus it is difficult to maintain these stem cell colonies. Also, these ES cells are more susceptible to various stresses, causing difficulty with subculturing using enzymatic treatment and cloning from single cells. However, with various improvements in culture methods, it is now possible to maintain stable colonies of monkey ES cells using a serum-free medium and subculturing with trypsin treatment. Under such conditions, cynomolgus monkey ES cell lines can be maintained in an undifferentiated state with a normal karyotype and pluripotency even after prolonged periods of culture over 1 year. Such progress should facilitate many aspects of stem cell research using both nonhuman primate and human ES cell lines.