Role of Oct4 in maintaining and regaining stem cell pluripotency.Stem Cell Res Ther. 2010 Dec 14; 1(5):39.SC
Pluripotency, a characteristic of cells in the inner cell mass of the mammalian preimplantation blastocyst as well as of embryonic stem cells, is defined as the ability of a cell to generate all of the cell types of an organism. A group of transcription factors is essential for the establishment and maintenance of the pluripotent state. Recent studies have demonstrated that differentiated somatic cells could be reverted to a pluripotent state by the overexpression of a set of transcription factors, further highlighting the significance of transcription factors in the control of pluripotency. Among these factors, a member of the POU transcription factor family, Oct4, is central to the machinery governing pluripotency. Oct4 is highly expressed in pluripotent cells and becomes silenced upon differentiation. Interestingly, the precise expression level of Oct4 determines the fate of embryonic stem cells. Therefore, to control the expression of Oct4 precisely, a variety of regulators function at multiple levels, including transcription, translation of mRNA and post-translational modification. Additionally, in cooperation with Sox2, Nanog and other members of the core transcriptional regulatory circuitry, Oct4 activates both protein-coding genes and noncoding RNAs necessary for pluripotency. Simultaneously, in association with transcriptional repressive complexes, Oct4 represses another set of targets involved in developmental processes. Importantly, Oct4 can re-establish pluripotency in somatic cells, and proper reprogramming of Oct4 expression is indispensable for deriving genuine induced pluripotent stem cell lines. In the past several years, genome-wide identification of Oct4 target genes and Oct4-centered protein interactomes has been reported, indicating that Oct4 exerts tight control over pluripotency regulator expression and protects embryonic stem cells in an undifferentiated state. Nevertheless, further investigation is required to fully elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms through which Oct4 maintains and reinitiates pluripotency. Systemic and dynamic exploration of the protein complexes and target genes associated with Oct4 will help to elucidate the role of Oct4 more comprehensively.