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Nat Cell Biol. 2011 Jun 19;13(7):838-45. doi: 10.1038/ncb2267.

Inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3 alleviates Tcf3 repression of the pluripotency network and increases embryonic stem cell resistance to differentiation.

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Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research & Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, Tennis Court Road, Cambridge CB2 1QR, UK.

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  • Nat Cell Biol. 2012 May;14(5):555.


Self-renewal of rodent embryonic stem cells is enhanced by partial inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (Gsk3; refs 1, 2). This effect has variously been attributed to stimulation of Wnt signalling by β-catenin, stabilization of Myc protein and global de-inhibition of anabolic processes. Here we demonstrate that β-catenin is not necessary for embryonic stem cell identity or expansion, but its absence eliminates the self-renewal response to Gsk3 inhibition. Responsiveness is fully restored by truncated β-catenin lacking the carboxy-terminal transactivation domain. However, requirement for Gsk3 inhibition is dictated by expression of T-cell factor 3 (Tcf3) and mediated by direct interaction with β-catenin. Tcf3 localizes to many pluripotency genes in embryonic stem cells. Our findings confirm that Tcf3 acts as a transcriptional repressor and reveal that β-catenin directly abrogates Tcf3 function. We conclude that Gsk3 inhibition stabilizes the embryonic stem cell state primarily by reducing repressive influence on the core pluripotency network.

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