Jennifer Nichols

Dr Jennifer Nichols

Embryonic Pluripotency


Laboratory Location:

Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, Nichols Lab Members

Departmental Affiliation:

Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge


Stoyana AlexandrovaThorsten Boroviak Kenneth JonesAgata Kurowski • Carla Mulas •

Collaborators: •Anne Cooke, Department of Pathology, Cambridge •Kay Elder, Bourn Hall Fertility Clinic, Cambridgeshire •Alfonso Martinez-Arias, Department of Genetics, Cambridge •Berenika Plusa, University of Manchester •Joshua Brickman, University of Edinburgh • Jose Silva, WTCSCR, Cambridge • Austin Smith, WTCSCR, Cambridge

Professional History

Jenny Nichols began her research career with Professor Richard Gardner at the University of Oxford, where she developed a fascination for early mammalian development. She subsequently moved to Edinburgh to join Austin Smith in his newly formed group at the Centre for Genome Research to focus on investigating how the epiblast lineage is established in the embryo and how pluripotent cells can be captured and propagated efficiently in culture as embryonic stem cell lines.

She obtained her PhD in Edinburgh in 1995 and continued as a post doctoral research fellow in Austin Smith's lab until 2006, when she moved to Cambridge to become a group leader under the direction of Professor Smith at the CSCR.

Lab Information 

Unlike most other model organisms, the early mammalian embryo possesses an amazing capacity to regulate its own development. Murine embryos develop a pluripotent epiblast at the late blastocyst stage, which can be propagated in vitro in the form of embryonic stem (ES) cells. The first ES cells were derived directly from mouse blastocysts using culture medium supplemented with serum and a 'feeder layer' of mitotically inactivated fibroblasts. The process by which ES cells emerge was not understood, but their potential applications were immediately realised to be enormous. The purpose of our research is to try to understand how the pluripotent cells are assigned and maintained in the embryo; how they can be harnessed and propagated in culture as ES cell lines and how the process of ES cell derivation can be controlled and improved. Addition of selected inhibitors to the culture medium has obviated the requirement for exogenous cytokines for the maintenance and derivation of murine ES cells, apparently by simply removing the option to differentiate.  ES cells can be very efficiently derived from mouse and rat embryos cultured in these conditions from the 8 cell stage. This efficiency is apparently attributable to the ability of the inhibitors both to prevent hypoblast differentiation and to promote expansion of the epiblast.  We have applied this technology to derive ES cells efficiently from hitherto recalcitrant strains of mice, including non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice.

Although pluripotent cell lines have been derived from other mammals, these lines differ in many respects from murine ES cells, and are more similar to so called ‘epiblast stem cells’ (EpiSCs) derived from post-implantation mouse embryos.  We are interested in how differences in early embryonic development of various mammalian species influence their subsequent behaviour in culture.  We aim to develop novel strategies to derive non-rodent ES cell lines with properties similar to those of the mouse.

J. Nichols Fig. 1

Fig. 1: Phase image showing a colony of mouse ES cells

J. Nichols Fig. 2

Fig. 2: Confocal image of embryos cultured from the 8 cell stage for two days in control medium (left) and medium supplemented with MEK and GSK3 inhibitors (2i; right). Red staining is Nanog; green staining is Gata4.

Nichols Fig. 3

Fig. 3: Phase image (left) and confocal image (right) of a mouse blastocyst at 4.5 days post coitum showing segregation of inner cell mass into epiblast (red staining for Nanog) and hypoblast (green staining for Gata6)

Plain English


Key Publications

  • Takashima, Y. Guo, G. Loos, R. Nichols, J. Ficz, G. Krueger, F. Oxley, D. Santos, F. Clarke, J. Mansfield, W. Reik, W. Bertone, P. Smith, A. (2014).  Resetting Transcription Factor Control Circuitry toward Ground-State Pluripotency in Human. Cell 158, 1254-69.
  • Boroviak T, Loos R, Bertone P, Smith A, and Nichols J (2014). The ability of inner cell mass cells to self-renew as embryonic stem cells is acquired upon epiblast specification. Nat. Cell Biol. 16, 516-28.
  • Chia G, Muñoz Descalzo S, Kurowski A, Leitch H, Lou X, Mansfield W, Etienne-Dumeau C, Grabole N, Mulas C, Niwa H, Hadjantonakis A. K, and Nichols J (2014).Oct4 is required for lineage priming in the developing inner cell mass of the mouse blastocyst. Development 141, 1001-10.
  •  Betschinger J, Nichols J, Dietmann S, Corrin D, Paddison J and Smith A (2013). Exit from pluripotency is gated by intracellular redistribution of the bHLH transcription factor Tfe3. Cell 153, 335-47.
  • Roode M, Blair K, Snell P, Elder K, Marchant S, Smith A and Nichols J (2012). Human hypoblast formation is not dependent on FGF signalling. Dev. Biol. 361, 358-63 Faculty 1000 ‘Must read’

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