Transcription factor kinetics and the emerging asymmetry in the early mammalian embryo

Cell Cycle. 2012 Jun 1;11(11):2055-8. doi: 10.4161/cc.20118. Epub 2012 Jun 1.


There is a long-running controversy about how early cell fate decisions are made in the developing mammalian embryo. ( 1) (,) ( 2) In particular, it is controversial when the first events that can predict the establishment of the pluripotent and extra-embryonic lineages in the blastocyst of the pre-implantation embryo occur. It has long been proposed that the position and polarity of cells at the 16- to 32-cell stage embryo influence their decision to either give rise to the pluripotent cell lineage that eventually contributes to the inner cell mass (ICM), comprising the primitive endoderm (PE) and the epiblast (EPI), or the extra-embryonic trophectoderm (TE) surrounding the blastocoel. The positioning of cells in the embryo at this developmental stage could largely be the result of random events, making this a stochastic model of cell lineage allocation. Contrary to such a stochastic model, some studies have detected putative differences in the lineage potential of individual blastomeres before compaction, indicating that the first cell fate decisions may occur as early as at the 4-cell stage. Using a non-invasive, quantitative in vivo imaging assay to study the kinetic behavior of Oct4 (also known as POU5F1), a key transcription factor (TF) controlling pre-implantation development in the mouse embryo, ( 3) (-) ( 5) a recent study identifies Oct4 kinetics as a predictive measure of cell lineage patterning in the early mouse embryo. ( 6) Here, we discuss the implications of such molecular heterogeneities in early development and offer potential avenues toward a mechanistic understanding of these observations, contributing to the resolution of the controversy of developmental cell lineage allocation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Lineage
  • Embryo, Mammalian / cytology*
  • Embryo, Mammalian / metabolism
  • Embryonic Development
  • Endoderm / metabolism
  • Germ Layers / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Octamer Transcription Factor-3 / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / chemistry
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Octamer Transcription Factor-3
  • Transcription Factors