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J Biol Chem. 2005 Feb 25;280(8):6265-8. Epub 2005 Jan 6.

Multiple retropseudogenes from pluripotent cell-specific gene expression indicates a potential signature for novel gene identification.

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Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.


Oct4, Nanog, and Stella are transcription factors specifically expressed in embryonic stem (ES) cells and germ lineage cells that impart critical functions in the maintenance of pluripotency. Here, we report the excessive frequency and apparent selectivity of retrotransposition of ES cell-specific genes. Six highly homologous pseudogenes for Oct4, 10 for Nanog, and 16 for Stella were identified by nucleotide BLAST (basic local alignment sequence tool) searches against the respective gene mRNA transcripts. Of 15 non-ES cell-specific transcription factor genes, only one had a single pseudogene hit in our screen, emphasizing the apparent selectivity. We present a hypothesis whereby retrotransposition of ES or germ cell-specific genes may reflect an innate predisposition. This is based on the increased probability of germ-line transmission when retrotransposition occurs at a very early stage of development within cells known to contribute to the germ cell lineage. The parental genes for Nanog, Stella, and another embryonic gene, GDF3 are all located on chromosome 12p13 of the human genome, and on chromosome 6 in mouse. Here, we identified an Oct4 pseudogene at the same respective loci in both human and mouse genomes, suggesting functional relevance and indicative of epigenetic regulation. We tested whether the apparent susceptibility for ES cell-specific gene retrotransposition may be extrapolated to a more unified phenomenon, such that a bioinformatic approach may represent a potentially novel strategy for identification of genes with embryonic cell-specific functionality. A preliminary investigation indeed revealed a single gene, previously demonstrated to be responsible for multiple retropseudogenes via germ cell-specific expression in Xenopus.

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