Characterization of tubular liquid crystal structure in embryonic stem cell derived embryoid bodies

Meng Meng Xu, Odell D. Jones, Liyang Wang, Xin Zhou, Harry G. Davis, Joseph L. Bryant, Jianjie Ma, Willian B. Isaacs, Xuehong Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Massive liquid crystal droplets have been found during embryonic development in more than twenty different tissues and organs, including the liver, brain and kidney. Liquid crystal deposits have also been identified in multiple human pathologies, including vascular disease, liver dysfunction, age-related macular degeneration, and other chronic illnesses. Despite the involvement of liquid crystals in such a large number of human processes, this phenomenon is poorly understood and there are no in vitro systems to further examine the function of liquid crystals in biology. Results: We report the presence of tubular birefringent structures in embryoid bodies (EBs) differentiated in culture. These birefringent tubular structures initiate at the EB surface and penetrated the cortex at a variety of depths. Under crossed polarized light, these tubules are seen as a collection of birefringent Maltese crosses and tubules with birefringent walls and a non-birefringent lumen. The fluidity of these birefringent structures under pressure application led to elongation and widening, which was partially recoverable with pressure release. These birefringent structures also displayed heat triggered phase transition from liquid crystal to isotropic status that is partially recoverable with return to ambient temperature. These pressure and temperature triggered changes confirm the birefringent structures as liquid crystals. The first report of liquid crystal so early in development. Conclusion: The structure of the liquid crystal tubule network we observed distributed throughout the differentiated embryoid bodies may function as a transportation network for nutrients and metabolic waste during EB growth, and act as a precursor to the vascular system. This observation not only reveals the involvement of liquid crystals earlier than previously known, but also provides a method for studying liquid crystals in vitro.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3
JournalCell and Bioscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 3 2017


  • Embryoid body
  • Embryonic stem cell
  • Liquid crystal
  • Phase transition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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