It is common knowledge that mouse embryonic stem cell (mESC) lines accumulate chromosomal changes during culture. Despite the wide use of mESCs as a model of early mammalian development and cell differentiation, there is a lack of systematic studies aimed at characterizing their karyological changes during culture. We cultured an mESC line, derived in our laboratory, for a period of 3 months investigating its chromosome complement at different times. About 60% of the metaphases analysed were euploid throughout the culture period but, from passage 13, only 50% of the euploid metaphases had a proper chromosome complement. The remaining 50% showed chromosome abnormalities, mainly gain or loss of entire chromosomes, both within the same passage and among different passages analysed. The very heterogeneous spectrum of abnormalities indicates a high frequency of chromosome mutations that arise continuously during culture. The heterogeneity of the aberrant chromosome constitution of 2n = 40 metaphases, observed at different passages of culture, might be due either to their elimination or to a shift towards the hypoeu- or hypereuploid population of those metaphases that accumulate further chromosome abnormalities. The stability of the frequency of eu-, hypoeu- and hypereuploid populations during culture might, however, be due to the elimination of those cells that carry a high mutational burden. Based on our results, we suggest that karyotype analysis of the euploid cell population of mESC lines is necessary when such lines are used in the production of chimeric mice, for their contribution to the germ line, or when they are differentiated into specific cell types.
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