OCT4 supports extended LIF-independent self-renewal and maintenance of transcriptional and epigenetic networks in embryonic stem cells

Sci Rep. 2017 Nov 27;7(1):16360. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-16611-y.


Embryonic stem (ES) cell pluripotency is governed by OCT4-centric transcriptional networks. Conventional ES cells can be derived and maintained in vitro with media containing the cytokine leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), which propagates the pluripotent state by activating STAT3 signaling, and simultaneous inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3) and MAP kinase/ERK kinase signaling. However, it is unclear whether overexpression of OCT4 is sufficient to overcome LIF-dependence. Here, we show that inducible expression of OCT4 (iOCT4) supports long-term LIF-independent self-renewal of ES cells cultured in media containing fetal bovine serum (FBS) and a glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3) inhibitor, and in serum-free media. Global expression analysis revealed that LIF-independent iOCT4 ES cells and control ES cells exhibit similar transcriptional programs relative to epiblast stem cells (EpiSCs) and differentiated cells. Epigenomic profiling also demonstrated similar patterns of histone modifications between LIF-independent iOCT4 and control ES cells. Moreover, LIF-independent iOCT4 ES cells retain the capacity to differentiate in vitro and in vivo upon downregulation of OCT4 expression. These findings indicate that OCT4 expression is sufficient to sustain intrinsic signaling in a LIF-independent manner to promote ES cell pluripotency and self-renewal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Cell Differentiation* / genetics
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Self Renewal* / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 / genetics
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Leukemia Inhibitory Factor / genetics*
  • Leukemia Inhibitory Factor / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Octamer Transcription Factor-3 / genetics
  • Octamer Transcription Factor-3 / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Transcriptome


  • Biomarkers
  • Histones
  • Leukemia Inhibitory Factor
  • Octamer Transcription Factor-3
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3