Kyle Loh, PhD

Our goal is to understand how various human tissues are constructed from stem cells during development: we apply reductionist approaches to developmental biology. We are delineating a roadmap for early human tissue development by defining the branching lineage choices through which human embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells develop into >20 different tissue progenitors. At each branching lineage choice where stem cells choose to differentiate into one of two lineages, we are discovering the extracellular cues that induce one cell-type or another. By applying a combination of the relevant inductive signals while blocking the repressive signals that otherwise induce the alternate fate, we can "force" stem cells to differentiate into a relatively pure population of a given cell-type - thus fulfilling a key goal of regenerative medicine. This has allowed us to generate enriched populations of human liver, bone and heart progenitors from pluripotent stem cells, each of which could regenerate their cognate human tissue in respective mouse models. Our current objectives are two-fold: (1) to reconstitute the development of relatively pure populations of human tissue progenitors in vitro for regenerative medicine and (2) to understand the molecular basis of the developmental competence of stem cells and how they subsequently assemble into tissues.

Instructor, Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine


  • Generating Cellular Diversity and Spatial Form: Wnt Signaling and the Evolution of Multicellular Animals. Developmental cell Loh, K. M., van Amerongen, R., Nusse, R. 2016; 38 (6): 643-655


    There were multiple prerequisites to the evolution of multicellular animal life, including the generation of multiple cell fates ("cellular diversity") and their patterned spatial arrangement ("spatial form"). Wnt proteins operate as primordial symmetry-breaking signals. By virtue of their short-range nature and their capacity to activate both lineage-specifying and cell-polarizing intracellular signaling cascades, Wnts can polarize cells at their site of contact, orienting the axis of cell division while simultaneously programming daughter cells to adopt diverging fates in a spatially stereotyped way. By coupling cell fate to position, symmetry-breaking Wnt signals were pivotal in constructing the metazoan body by generating cellular diversity and spatial form.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.devcel.2016.08.011

    View details for PubMedID 27676437

  • Mapping the Pairwise Choices Leading from Pluripotency to Human Bone, Heart, and Other Mesoderm Cell Types CELL Loh, K. M., Chen, A., Koh, P. W., Deng, T. Z., Sinha, R., Tsai, J. M., Barkal, A. A., Shen, K. Y., Jain, R., Morganti, R. M., Shyh-Chang, N., Fernhoff, N. B., George, B. M., Wernig, G., Salomon, R. E., Chen, Z., Vogel, H., Epstein, J. A., Kundaje, A., Talbot, W. S., Beachy, P. A., Ang, L. T., Weissman, I. L. 2016; 166 (2): 451-467


    Stem-cell differentiation to desired lineages requires navigating alternating developmental paths that often lead to unwanted cell types. Hence, comprehensive developmental roadmaps are crucial to channel stem-cell differentiation toward desired fates. To this end, here, we map bifurcating lineage choices leading from pluripotency to 12 human mesodermal lineages, including bone, muscle, and heart. We defined the extrinsic signals controlling each binary lineage decision, enabling us to logically block differentiation toward unwanted fates and rapidly steer pluripotent stem cells toward 80%-99% pure human mesodermal lineages at most branchpoints. This strategy enabled the generation of human bone and heart progenitors that could engraft in respective in vivo models. Mapping stepwise chromatin and single-cell gene expression changes in mesoderm development uncovered somite segmentation, a previously unobservable human embryonic event transiently marked by HOPX expression. Collectively, this roadmap enables navigation of mesodermal development to produce transplantable human tissue progenitors and uncover developmental processes. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2016.06.011

    View details for Web of Science ID 000380255400021

    View details for PubMedID 27419872

  • Ex uno plures: molecular designs for embryonic pluripotency. Physiological reviews Loh, K. M., Lim, B., Ang, L. T. 2015; 95 (1): 245-295


    Pluripotent cells in embryos are situated near the apex of the hierarchy of developmental potential. They are capable of generating all cell types of the mammalian body proper. Therefore, they are the exemplar of stem cells. In vivo, pluripotent cells exist transiently and become expended within a few days of their establishment. Yet, when explanted into artificial culture conditions, they can be indefinitely propagated in vitro as pluripotent stem cell lines. A host of transcription factors and regulatory genes are now known to underpin the pluripotent state. Nonetheless, how pluripotent cells are equipped with their vast multilineage differentiation potential remains elusive. Consensus holds that pluripotency transcription factors prevent differentiation by inhibiting the expression of differentiation genes. However, this does not explain the developmental potential of pluripotent cells. We have presented another emergent perspective, namely, that pluripotency factors function as lineage specifiers that enable pluripotent cells to differentiate into specific lineages, therefore endowing pluripotent cells with their multilineage potential. Here we provide a comprehensive overview of the developmental biology, transcription factors, and extrinsic signaling associated with pluripotent cells, and their accompanying subtypes, in vitro heterogeneity and chromatin states. Although much has been learned since the appreciation of mammalian pluripotency in the 1950s and the derivation of embryonic stem cell lines in 1981, we will specifically emphasize what currently remains unclear. However, the view that pluripotency factors capacitate differentiation, recently corroborated by experimental evidence, might perhaps address the long-standing question of how pluripotent cells are endowed with their multilineage differentiation potential.

    View details for DOI 10.1152/physrev.00001.2014

    View details for PubMedID 25540144

  • Stem cell signaling. An integral program for tissue renewal and regeneration: Wnt signaling and stem cell control. Science Clevers, H., Loh, K. M., Nusse, R. 2014; 346 (6205)


    Stem cells fuel tissue development, renewal, and regeneration, and these activities are controlled by the local stem cell microenvironment, the "niche." Wnt signals emanating from the niche can act as self-renewal factors for stem cells in multiple mammalian tissues. Wnt proteins are lipid-modified, which constrains them to act as short-range cellular signals. The locality of Wnt signaling dictates that stem cells exiting the Wnt signaling domain differentiate, spatially delimiting the niche in certain tissues. In some instances, stem cells may act as or generate their own niche, enabling the self-organization of patterned tissues. In this Review, we discuss the various ways by which Wnt operates in stem cell control and, in doing so, identify an integral program for tissue renewal and regeneration.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.1248012

    View details for PubMedID 25278615

  • Efficient endoderm induction from human pluripotent stem cells by logically directing signals controlling lineage bifurcations. Cell stem cell Loh, K. M., Ang, L. T., Zhang, J., Kumar, V., Ang, J., Auyeong, J. Q., Lee, K. L., Choo, S. H., Lim, C. Y., Nichane, M., Tan, J., Noghabi, M. S., Azzola, L., Ng, E. S., Durruthy-Durruthy, J., Sebastiano, V., Poellinger, L., Elefanty, A. G., Stanley, E. G., Chen, Q., Prabhakar, S., Weissman, I. L., Lim, B. 2014; 14 (2): 237-252


    Human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) differentiation typically yields heterogeneous populations. Knowledge of signals controlling embryonic lineage bifurcations could efficiently yield desired cell types through exclusion of alternate fates. Therefore, we revisited signals driving induction and anterior-posterior patterning of definitive endoderm to generate a coherent roadmap for endoderm differentiation. With striking temporal dynamics, BMP and Wnt initially specified anterior primitive streak (progenitor to endoderm), yet, 24 hr later, suppressed endoderm and induced mesoderm. At lineage bifurcations, cross-repressive signals separated mutually exclusive fates; TGF-β and BMP/MAPK respectively induced pancreas versus liver from endoderm by suppressing the alternate lineage. We systematically blockaded alternate fates throughout multiple consecutive bifurcations, thereby efficiently differentiating multiple hPSC lines exclusively into endoderm and its derivatives. Comprehensive transcriptional and chromatin mapping of highly pure endodermal populations revealed that endodermal enhancers existed in a surprising diversity of "pre-enhancer" states before activation, reflecting the establishment of a permissive chromatin landscape as a prelude to differentiation.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.stem.2013.12.007

    View details for PubMedID 24412311