The origin and evolution of molecular mechanisms underlying cellular pluripotency is a fundamental question in stem cell biology. The transcription factor Oct4 or Pou5f1 identified in mouse features pluripotency expression and activity in the inner cell mass and embryonic stem (ES) cells. Pou2 identified in zebrafish is the non-mammalian homolog prototype of mouse Oct4. The genes oct4 and pou2 have reportedly evolved by pou5 gene duplication in the common ancestor of vertebrates. Unlike mouse oct4, however, zebrafish pou2 lacks pluripotency expression and activity. Whether the presence of pluripotency expression and activity is specific for mammalian Oct4 or common to the ancestor of vertebrate Oct4 and Pou2 proteins has remained to be determined. Here we report that Oloct4, the medaka oct4/pou2, is essential for early embryogenesis and pluripotency maintenance. Oloct4 exists as a single copy gene and is orthologous to pou2 by sequence and chromosome synteny. Oloct4 expression occurs in early embryos, germ stem cells and ES cells like mouse oct4 but also in the brain and tail bud like zebrafish pou2. Importantly, OlOct4 depletion caused blastula lethality or blockage. We show that Oloct4 depletion abolishes ES cell derivation from midblastula embryos. Thus, Oloct4 has pluripotency expression and is essential for early embryogenesis and pluripotency maintenance. Our results demonstrate the conservation of pluripotency expression and activity in vertebrate Oct4 and Pou2 proteins. The finding that Oloct4 combines the features of mouse oct4 and zebrafish pou2 in expression and function suggests that Oloct4 might represent the ancestral prototype of vertebrate oct4 and pou2 genes.