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EMBO J. 2011 Jan 19;30(2):237-48. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2010.319. Epub 2010 Dec 10.

A regulatory circuitry comprised of miR-302 and the transcription factors OCT4 and NR2F2 regulates human embryonic stem cell differentiation.

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Laboratory of Molecular Vertebrate Embryology, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, USA.


Multiple levels of control are in play to regulate pluripotency and differentiation in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). At the transcriptional level, the core factors OCT4, NANOG and SOX2 form a positive autoregulatory loop that is pivotal for maintaining the undifferentiated state. At the post-transcriptional level, microRNAs (miRNAs) belonging to the miR-302 family are emerging as key players in the control of proliferation and cell fate determination during differentiation. Here, we show that the transcriptional factors OCT4 and NR2F2 (COUP-TFII) and the miRNA miR-302 are linked in a regulatory circuitry that critically regulate both pluripotency and differentiation in hESCs. In the undifferentiated state, both OCT4 and the OCT4-induced miR-302 directly repress NR2F2 at the transcriptional and post-transcriptional level, respectively. Conversely, NR2F2 directly inhibits OCT4 during differentiation, triggering a positive feedback loop for its own expression. In addition, we show that regulation of NR2F2 activity itself relies on alternative splicing and transcriptional start site choice to generate a full-length transcriptionally active isoform and shorter variants, which enhance the activity of the long isoform. During hESC differentiation, NR2F2 is first detected at the earliest steps of neural induction and thus is among the earliest human embryonic neural markers. Finally, our functional analysis points to a crucial role for NR2F2 in the activation of neural genes during early differentiation in humans. These findings introduce a new molecular player in the context of early embryonic stem cell state and cell fate determination in humans.

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