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Genes Dev. 2019 Aug 1;33(15-16):1069-1082. doi: 10.1101/gad.324319.119. Epub 2019 Jun 20.

KLF4 protein stability regulated by interaction with pluripotency transcription factors overrides transcriptional control.

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Department of Cell and Systems Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontaria M5S3G5, Canada.


Embryonic stem (ES) cells are regulated by a network of transcription factors that maintain the pluripotent state. Differentiation relies on down-regulation of pluripotency transcription factors disrupting this network. While investigating transcriptional regulation of the pluripotency transcription factor Kruppel-like factor 4 (Klf4), we observed that homozygous deletion of distal enhancers caused a 17-fold decrease in Klf4 transcript but surprisingly decreased protein levels by less than twofold, indicating that posttranscriptional control of KLF4 protein overrides transcriptional control. The lack of sensitivity of KLF4 to transcription is due to high protein stability (half-life >24 h). This stability is context-dependent and is disrupted during differentiation, as evidenced by a shift to a half-life of <2 h. KLF4 protein stability is maintained through interaction with other pluripotency transcription factors (NANOG, SOX2, and STAT3) that together facilitate association of KLF4 with RNA polymerase II. In addition, the KLF4 DNA-binding and transactivation domains are required for optimal KLF4 protein stability. Posttranslational modification of KLF4 destabilizes the protein as cells exit the pluripotent state, and mutations that prevent this destabilization also prevent differentiation. These data indicate that the core pluripotency transcription factors are integrated by posttranslational mechanisms to maintain the pluripotent state and identify mutations that increase KLF4 protein stability while maintaining transcription factor function.


KLF4; pluripotency; protein stability; stem cells; transcription; ubiquitin

[Available on 2020-02-01]

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