Trophoblast stem cells (TSC) are the precursors of the differentiated cells of the placenta. In the mouse, TSC can be derived from outgrowths of either blastocyst polar trophectoderm (TE) or extraembryonic ectoderm (ExE), which originates from polar TE after implantation. The mouse TSC niche appears to be located within the ExE adjacent to the epiblast, on which it depends for essential growth factors, but whether this cellular architecture is the same in other species remains to be determined. Mouse TSC self-renewal can be sustained by culture on mitotically inactivated feeder cells, which provide one or more factors related to the NODAL pathway, and a medium supplemented with FGF4, heparin, and fetal bovine serum. Repression of the gene network that maintains pluripotency and emergence of the transcription factor pathways that specify a trophoblast (TR) fate enables TSC derivation in vitro and placental formation in vivo. Disrupting the pluripotent network of embryonic stem cells (ESC) causes them to default to a TR ground state. Pluripotent cells that have acquired sublethal chromosomal alterations may be sequestered into TR for similar reasons. The transition from ESC to TSC, which appears to be unidirectional, reveals important aspects of initial fate decisions in mice. TSC have yet to be derived from domestic species in which remarkable TR growth precedes embryogenesis. Recent derivation of TSC from blastocysts of the rhesus monkey suggests that isolation of the human equivalents may be possible and will reveal the extent to which mechanisms uncovered by using animal models are true in our own species.
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Vol. 84 • No. 3