We have used a method for synchronously differentiating murine embryonic stem (ES) cells into functional neurons and glia in culture. Using subtractive hybridization we isolated approximately 1200 cDNA clones from ES cell cultures at the neural precursor stage of neural differentiation. Pilot studies indicated that this library is a good source of novel neuro-embryonic cDNA clones. We therefore screened the entire library by single-pass sequencing. Characterization of 604 non-redundant cDNA clones by BLAST revealed 96 novel expressed sequence tags (ESTs) and an additional 197 matching uncharacterized ESTs or genomic clones derived from genome sequencing projects. With the exception of a handful of genes, whose functions are still unclear, most of the 311 known genes identified in this screen are expressed in embryonic development and/or the nervous system. At least 80 of these genes are implicated in disorders of differentiation, neural development and/or neural function. This study provides an initial snapshot of gene expression during early neural differentiation of ES cell cultures. Given the recent identification of human ES cells, further characterization of these novel and uncharacterized ESTs has the potential to identify genes that may be important in nervous system development, physiology and disease.
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