Construction of a mammalian embryo model from stem cells organized by a morphogen signalling centre

Generating properly differentiated embryonic structures in vitro from pluripotent stem cells remains a challenge. Here we show that instruction of aggregates of mouse embryonic stem cells with an experimentally engineered morphogen signalling centre, that functions as an organizer, results in the development of embryo-like entities (embryoids). In situ hybridization, immunolabelling, cell tracking and transcriptomic analyses show that these embryoids form the three germ layers through a gastrulation process and that they exhibit a wide range of developmental structures, highly similar to neurula-stage mouse embryos. Embryoids are organized around an axial chordamesoderm, with a dorsal neural plate that displays histological properties similar to the murine embryo neuroepithelium and that folds into a neural tube patterned antero-posteriorly from the posterior midbrain to the tip of the tail. Lateral to the chordamesoderm, embryoids display somitic and intermediate mesoderm, with beating cardiac tissue anteriorly and formation of a vasculature network. Ventrally, embryoids differentiate a primitive gut tube, which is patterned both antero-posteriorly and dorso-ventrally. Altogether, embryoids provide an in vitro model of mammalian embryo that displays extensive development of germ layer derivatives and that promises to be a powerful tool for in vitro studies and disease modelling.