Apoptotic susceptibility to DNA damage of pluripotent stem cells facilitates pharmacologic purging of teratoma risk

Alyson J. Smith, Natalie G. Nelson, Saji Oommen, Katherine A. Hartjes, Clifford D. Folmes, Andre Terzic, Timothy J. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Pluripotent stem cells have been the focus of bioengineering efforts designed to generate regenerative products, yet harnessing therapeutic capacity while minimizing risk of dysregulated growth remains a challenge. The risk of residual undifferentiated stem cells within a differentiated progenitor population requires a targeted approach to eliminate contaminating cells prior to delivery. In this study we aimed to validate a toxicity strategy that could selectively purge pluripotent stem cells in response to DNA damage and avoid risk of uncontrolled cell growth upon transplantation. Compared with somatic cell types, embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells displayed hypersensitivity to apoptotic induction by genotoxic agents. Notably, hypersensitivity in pluripotent stem cells was stage-specific and consistently lost upon in vitro differentiation, with the mean half-maximal inhibitory concentration increasing nearly 2 orders of magnitude with tissue specification. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction and Western blotting demonstrated that the innate response was mediated through upregulation of the BH3-only protein Puma in both natural and induced pluripotent stem cells. Pretreatment with genotoxic etoposide purged hypersensitive pluripotent stem cells to yield a progenitor population refractory to teratoma formation upon transplantation. Collectively, this study exploits a hypersensitive apoptotic response to DNA damage within pluripotent stem cells to decrease risk of dysregulated growth and augment the safety profile of transplant-ready, bioengineered progenitor cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)709-718
Number of pages10
JournalStem Cells Translational Medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2012


  • Apoptosis
  • Pluripotent stem cells
  • Stem cell transplantation
  • Stem cells
  • Tumor cell purging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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