Highly Efficient Differentiation of Endothelial Cells from Pluripotent Stem Cells Requires the MAPK and the PI3K Pathways

Aja Harding, Elizabeth Cortez-Toledo, Nataly L. Magner, Julie R. Beegle, Dane P. Coleal-Bergum, Dake Hao, Aijun Wang, Jan Nolta, Ping Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Pluripotent stem cells are a promising source of endothelial cells (ECs) for the treatment of vascular diseases. We have developed a robust protocol to differentiate human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) and embryonic stem cells (hESCs) into ECs with high purities (94%-97% CD31+ and 78%-83% VE-cadherin+) in 8 days without cell sorting. Passaging of these cells yielded a nearly pure population of ECs (99% of CD31+ and 96.8% VE-cadherin+). These ECs also expressed other endothelial markers vWF, Tie2, NOS3, and exhibited functions of ECs such as uptake of Dil-acetylated low-density lipoprotein and formation of tubes in vitro or vessels in vivo on matrigel. We found that FGF2, VEGF, and BMP4 synergistically induced early vascular progenitors (VPs) from hiPSC-derived mesodermal cells. The MAPK and PI3K pathways are crucial not only for the initial commitment to vascular lineages but also for the differentiation of vascular progenitors to ECs, most likely through regulation of the ETS family transcription factors, ERG and FLI1. We revealed novel roles of the p38 and JNK MAPK pathways on EC differentiation. Furthermore, inhibition of the ERK pathway markedly promoted the differentiation of smooth muscle cells. Finally, we demonstrate that pluripotent stem cell-derived ECs are capable of forming patent blood vessels that were connected to the host vasculature in the ischemic limbs of immune deficient mice. Thus, we demonstrate that ECs can be efficiently derived from hiPSCs and hESCs, and have great potential for vascular therapy as well as for mechanistic studies of EC differentiation. Stem Cells 2017;35:909–919.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)909-919
Number of pages11
JournalStem Cells
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Embryonic stem cells
  • Endothelial differentiation
  • Induced pluripotent stem cells
  • Signal transduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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