Pluripotent stem cells are characterized by their high proliferative rates, their ability to self-renew and their potential to differentiate to all the three germ layers. This rapid proliferation is brought about by a highly modified cell cycle that allows the cells to quickly shuttle from DNA synthesis to cell division, by reducing the time spent in the intervening gap phases. Many key regulators that define the somatic cell cycle are either absent or exhibit altered behavior, allowing the pluripotent cell to bypass cell cycle checkpoints typical of somatic cells. Experimental analysis of this modified stem cell cycle has been challenging due to the strong link between rapid proliferation and pluripotency, since perturbations to the cell cycle or pluripotency factors result in differentiation. Despite these hurdles, our understanding of this unique cell cycle has greatly improved over the past decade, in part because of the availability of new technologies that permit the analysis of single cells in heterogeneous populations. This review aims to highlight some of the recent discoveries in this area with a special emphasis on different states of pluripotency. We also discuss the highly interlinked network that connects pluripotency factors and key cell cycle genes and review evidence for how this interdependency may promote the rapid cell cycle. This issue gains translational importance since disruptions in stem cell proliferation and differentiation can impact disorders at opposite ends of a spectrum, from cancer to degenerative disease.
Keywords: cell cycle; embryonic stem cells; induced pluripotent stem cells; pluripotency; reprogramming.
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