The intracellular distribution of the ES cell totipotent markers OCT4 and Sox2 in adult stem cells differs dramatically according to commercial antibody used

J Cell Biochem. 2009 Apr 1;106(5):867-77. doi: 10.1002/jcb.22054.


To characterize ES cells, researchers have at their disposal a list of pluripotent markers, such as OCT4. In their quest to determine if adult stem cell populations, such as MSCs and ASCs, are pluripotent, several groups have begun to report the expression of these markers in these cells. Consistent with this, human ASCs (hASCs) are shown in this study to express a plethora of ES pluripotent markers at the gene and protein level, including OCT4, Sox2, and Nanog. When intracellular distribution is examined in hASCs, both OCT4 and Sox2 are expressed within the nuclei of hASCs, consistent with their expression patterns in ES cells. However, a significant amount of expression can be noted within the hASC cytoplasm and a complete absence of nuclear expression is observed for Nanog. Recent descriptions of OCT4 transcript variants may explain the cytoplasmic expression of OCT4 in hASCs and consistent with this, hASCs do express both the OCT4A and 4B transcript variants at the gene level. However, discrepancies arise when these three pluripotent markers are studied at the protein level. Specifically, distinct differences in intracellular expression patterns were noted for OCT4, Sox2, and Nanog from commercial antibody to commercial antibody. These antibody discrepancies persisted when hMSCs and rat ASCs and MSCs were examined. Therefore, confirming the expression of OCT4, Sox2, and Nanog in adult stem cells with today's commercial antibodies must be carefully considered before the designation of pluripotent can be granted.

MeSH terms

  • Adult Stem Cells / cytology
  • Animals
  • Antibodies*
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Nanog Homeobox Protein
  • Octamer Transcription Factor-3 / analysis*
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology
  • Rats
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors / analysis*
  • Totipotent Stem Cells / cytology*


  • Antibodies
  • Biomarkers
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • NANOG protein, human
  • Nanog Homeobox Protein
  • Octamer Transcription Factor-3
  • POU5F1 protein, human
  • SOX2 protein, human
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors