A detailed analysis of the developmental potential of parthenogenetic embryonic stem cells (PGES) was made in vivo and in vitro, and a comparison was made with the development of cells from parthenogenetic embryos (PG). In vivo, in chimeras with normal host cells (N), PGES cells showed a restricted tissue distribution consistent with that of PG cells, suggesting faithful imprinting in PGES cells with respect to genes involved in lineage allocation and differentiation. Restricted developmental potential was also observed in teratomas formed by ectopic transfer under the kidney capsule. In contrast, the classic phenotype of growth retardation normally observed in PG<==>N chimeras was not seen, suggesting aberrant regulation in PGES cells of genes involved in growth regulation. We also analysed the expression of known imprinted genes after ES cell differentiation. Igf2, H19 and Igf2r were all appropriately expressed in the PGES derived cells following induction of differentiation in vitro with all-trans retinoic acid or DMSO, when compared with control (D3) and androgenetic ES cells (AGES). Interestingly, H19 was found to be expressed at high levels following differentiation of the AGES cells. Due to the unexpected normal growth regulation of PGES<==>N chimeras we also examined Igf2 expression in PGES derived cells differentiated in vivo and found that this gene was still repressed. Our studies show that PGES cells provide a valuable in vitro model system to study the effects of imprinting on cell differentiation and they also provide invaluable material for extensive molecular studies on imprinted genes. In addition, the aberrant growth phenotype observed in chimeras has implications for mechanisms that regulate the somatic establishment and maintenance of some imprints. This is of particular interest as aberrant imprinting has recently been invoked in the etiology of some human diseases.

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