Mouse ES (embryonic stem) cells maintain pluripotency with robust proliferation in vitro. ES cells share some similarities with cancer cells, such as anchorage-independent growth, loss of contact inhibition and tumour formation. After differentiation, ES cells lose pluripotency and tumorigenicity. Recent studies showed that the PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase) pathway is important for proliferation, survival and maintenance of pluripotency in ES cells. The PI3K pathway is activated by growth factors and cytokines including insulin and leukaemia inhibitory factor. In addition to these exogenous factors, the PI3K pathway is endogenously activated by the constitutively active Ras family protein ERas (ES cell-expressed Ras). The PI3K pathway utilizes multiple downstream effectors including mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), which we have shown to be essential for proliferation in mouse ES cells and early embryos.

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