Dynamic regulation of Nanog and stem cell-signaling pathways by Hoxa1 during early neuro-ectodermal differentiation of ES cells

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Jun 6;114(23):5838-5845. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1610612114.


Homeobox a1 (Hoxa1) is one of the most rapidly induced genes in ES cell differentiation and it is the earliest expressed Hox gene in the mouse embryo. In this study, we used genomic approaches to identify Hoxa1-bound regions during early stages of ES cell differentiation into the neuro-ectoderm. Within 2 h of retinoic acid treatment, Hoxa1 is rapidly recruited to target sites that are associated with genes involved in regulation of pluripotency, and these genes display early changes in expression. The pattern of occupancy of Hoxa1 is dynamic and changes over time. At 12 h of differentiation, many sites bound at 2 h are lost and a new cohort of bound regions appears. At both time points the genome-wide mapping reveals that there is significant co-occupancy of Nanog (Nanog homeobox) and Hoxa1 on many common target sites, and these are linked to genes in the pluripotential regulatory network. In addition to shared target genes, Hoxa1 binds to regulatory regions of Nanog, and conversely Nanog binds to a 3' enhancer of Hoxa1 This finding provides evidence for direct cross-regulatory feedback between Hoxa1 and Nanog through a mechanism of mutual repression. Hoxa1 also binds to regulatory regions of Sox2 (sex-determining region Y box 2), Esrrb (estrogen-related receptor beta), and Myc, which underscores its key input into core components of the pluripotential regulatory network. We propose a model whereby direct inputs of Nanog and Hoxa1 on shared targets and mutual repression between Hoxa1 and the core pluripotency network provides a molecular mechanism that modulates the fine balance between the alternate states of pluripotency and differentiation.

Keywords: Hox genes; Nanog; gene regulation; pluripotency; regulatory networks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Mice
  • Models, Genetic
  • Nanog Homeobox Protein / genetics*
  • Nanog Homeobox Protein / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Nanog Homeobox Protein