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PLoS One. 2007 Jun 20;2(6):e553.

Oct4 targets regulatory nodes to modulate stem cell function.

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Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research, Ottawa Health Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; University of Ottawa, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


Stem cells are characterized by two defining features, the ability to self-renew and to differentiate into highly specialized cell types. The POU homeodomain transcription factor Oct4 (Pou5f1) is an essential mediator of the embryonic stem cell state and has been implicated in lineage specific differentiation, adult stem cell identity, and cancer. Recent description of the regulatory networks which maintain 'ES' have highlighted a dual role for Oct4 in the transcriptional activation of genes required to maintain self-renewal and pluripotency while concomitantly repressing genes which facilitate lineage specific differentiation. However, the molecular mechanism by which Oct4 mediates differential activation or repression at these loci to either maintain stem cell identity or facilitate the emergence of alternate transcriptional programs required for the realization of lineage remains to be elucidated. To further investigate Oct4 function, we employed gene expression profiling together with a robust statistical analysis to identify genes highly correlated to Oct4. Gene Ontology analysis to categorize overrepresented genes has led to the identification of themes which may prove essential to stem cell identity, including chromatin structure, nuclear architecture, cell cycle control, DNA repair, and apoptosis. Our experiments have identified previously unappreciated roles for Oct4 for firstly, regulating chromatin structure in a state consistent with self-renewal and pluripotency, and secondly, facilitating the expression of genes that keeps the cell poised to respond to cues that lead to differentiation. Together, these data define the mechanism by which Oct4 orchestrates cellular regulatory pathways to enforce the stem cell state and provides important insight into stem cell function and cancer.

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