hESCs (human embryonic stem cells) offer great potential for pharmaceutical research and development and, potentially, for therapeutic use. However, improvements in cell culture are urgently required to allow the scalable production of large numbers of cells that maintain pluripotency. Supplementing feeder-free conditions with either EHNA [erythro-9-(2-hydroxy-3-nonyl)adenine] or readily synthesized analogues of this compound maintains hESC pluripotency in the absence of exogenous cytokines. When the hESC lines SA121 or SA461 were maintained in feeder-free conditions with EHNA they displayed no reduction in stem-cell-associated markers such as Nanog, Oct4 (octamer-binding protein 4) and SSEA4 (stage-specific embryonic antigen 4) when compared with cells maintained in full feeder-free conditions that included exogenously added bFGF (basic fibroblast growth factor). Spontaneous differentiation was reversibly suppressed by the addition of EHNA, but EHNA did not limit efficient spontaneous or directed differentiation following its removal. We conclude that EHNA or related compounds offers a viable alternative to exogenous cytokine addition in maintaining hESC cultures in a pluripotent state and might be a particularly useful replacement for bFGF for large-scale or GMP (good manufacturing practice)-compliant processes.

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