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Development. 2009 Apr;136(7):1063-9. doi: 10.1242/dev.030957. Epub 2009 Feb 18.

Klf4 reverts developmentally programmed restriction of ground state pluripotency.

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Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1QR, UK.


Mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells derived from pluripotent early epiblast contribute functionally differentiated progeny to all foetal lineages of chimaeras. By contrast, epistem cell (EpiSC) lines from post-implantation epithelialised epiblast are unable to colonise the embryo even though they express the core pluripotency genes Oct4, Sox2 and Nanog. We examined interconversion between these two cell types. ES cells can readily become EpiSCs in response to growth factor cues. By contrast, EpiSCs do not change into ES cells. We exploited PiggyBac transposition to introduce a single reprogramming factor, Klf4, into EpiSCs. No effect was apparent in EpiSC culture conditions, but in ground state ES cell conditions a fraction of cells formed undifferentiated colonies. These EpiSC-derived induced pluripotent stem (Epi-iPS) cells activated expression of ES cell-specific transcripts including endogenous Klf4, and downregulated markers of lineage specification. X chromosome silencing in female cells, a feature of the EpiSC state, was erased in Epi-iPS cells. They produced high-contribution chimaeras that yielded germline transmission. These properties were maintained after Cre-mediated deletion of the Klf4 transgene, formally demonstrating complete and stable reprogramming of developmental phenotype. Thus, re-expression of Klf4 in an appropriate environment can regenerate the naïve ground state from EpiSCs. Reprogramming is dependent on suppression of extrinsic growth factor stimuli and proceeds to completion in less than 1% of cells. This substantiates the argument that EpiSCs are developmentally, epigenetically and functionally differentiated from ES cells. However, because a single transgene is the minimum requirement to attain the ground state, EpiSCs offer an attractive opportunity for screening for unknown components of the reprogramming process.

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