A key issue in human embryonic stem (ES) cell culture that has largely been ignored is the high degree of variability in the murine embryonic fibroblast (MEF) feeder cell density, which has been reported by different studies and protocols. Presumably, too low a feeder cell density would result in insufficient levels of secreted factors, extracellular matrix, and cellular contacts provided by the feeder cells for the maintenance of human ES cells in the undifferentiated state. Too high a feeder cell density, on the other hand, may result in a more rapid depletion of nutrients and oxygen within the in vitro culture milieu, as well as physically hinder the attachment and growth of ES colonies during serial passaging. Preliminary investigations by our group revealed that an elevated MEF cell density of 32,000 cells/cm2, above the recommended value of 20,000 cells/cm2, appeared to be highly detrimental to the attachment and growth of serially passaged ES colonies of the H9 line (WiCell Research Institute Inc., Wilmington, MA, USA). At the edge of ES colonies that have attached to the higher density feeder layer (32,000 cells/cm2), the ES cells appear to stack up to form a “bulge.” This was not observed under the recommended feeder cell density of 20,000 cells/cm2. By contrast, other established ES cell lines are routinely propagated at much higher feeder densities of 60,000 to 70,000 cells/cm2. This report briefly discusses the issue of MEF feeder cell density in relation to our preliminary observations, and the results of other studies.
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Vol. 40 • No. 8