Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, somatic cells reprogrammed to the pluripotent state by forced expression of defined factors, represent a uniquely valuable resource for research and regenerative medicine. However, this methodology remains inefficient due to incomplete mechanistic understanding of the reprogramming process. In recent years, various groups have endeavoured to interrogate the cell signalling that governs the reprogramming process, including LIF/STAT3, BMP, PI3K, FGF2, Wnt, TGFβ and MAPK pathways, with the aim of increasing our understanding and identifying new mechanisms of improving safety, reproducibility and efficiency. This has led to a unified model of reprogramming that consists of 3 stages: initiation, maturation and stabilisation. Initiation of reprogramming occurs in almost all cells that receive the reprogramming transgenes; most commonly Oct4, Sox2, Klf4 and cMyc, and involves a phenotypic mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition. The initiation stage is also characterised by increased proliferation and a metabolic switch from oxidative phosphorylation to glycolysis. The maturation stage is considered the major bottleneck within the process, resulting in very few "stabilisation competent" cells progressing to the final stabilisation phase. To reach this stage in both mouse and human cells, pre-iPS cells must activate endogenous expression of the core circuitry of pluripotency, comprising Oct4, Sox2, and Nanog, and thus reach a state of transgene independence. By the stabilisation stage, iPS cells generally use the same signalling networks that govern pluripotency in embryonic stem cells. These pathways differ between mouse and human cells although recent work has demonstrated that this is context dependent. As iPS cell generation technologies move forward, tools are being developed to interrogate the process in more detail, thus allowing a greater understanding of this intriguing biological phenomenon.
Keywords: Cell signalling; Embryonic stem; Induced pluripotent stem; Pluripotency; Reprogramming.