Background: Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) derived from reprogrammed patient somatic cells possess enormous therapeutic potential. However, unlocking the full capabilities of iPSC will require an improved understanding of the molecular mechanisms which govern the induction and maintenance of pluripotency, as well as directed differentiation to clinically relevant lineages. Induced pluripotency of a differentiated cell is mediated by sequential cascades of genetic and epigenetic reprogramming of somatic histone and DNA CpG methylation marks. These genome-wide changes are mediated by a coordinated activity of transcription factors and epigenetic modifying enzymes. Non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), including microRNAs (miRNAs) and long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), are now recognized as an important third class of regulators of the pluripotent state.
Scope of review: This review surveys the currently known roles and mechanisms of ncRNAs in regulating the embryonic and induced pluripotent states.
Major conclusions: Through a variety of mechanisms, ncRNAs regulate constellations of key pluripotency genes and epigenetic regulators, and thus critically determine induction and maintenance of the pluripotent state.
General significance: A further understanding of the roles of ncRNAs in regulating pluripotency may help assess the quality of human iPSC reprogramming. Additionally, ncRNA biology may help decipher potential transcriptional and epigenetic commonalities between the self renewal processes that govern both ESC and tumor initiating cancer stem cells (CSC). This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Biochemistry of Stem Cells.
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