Although microRNAs (miRNAs) function in the control of embryonic stem cell (ESC) pluripotency, a systems-level understanding is still being developed. Through the analysis of progressive Argonaute (Ago)-miRNA depletion and rescue, including stable Ago knockout mouse ESCs, we uncover transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) pathway activation as a direct and early response to ESC miRNA reduction. Mechanistically, we link the derepression of weaker miRNA targets, including TGF-β receptor 1 (Tgfbr1), to the sensitive TGF-β pathway activation. In contrast, stronger miRNA targets impart a more robust repression, which dampens concurrent transcriptional activation. We verify such dampened induction for TGF-β antagonist Lefty. We find that TGF-β pathway activation contributes to the G1 cell-cycle accumulation of miRNA-deficient ESCs. We propose that miRNA target affinity is a determinant of the temporal response to miRNA changes, which enables the coordination of gene network responses.
Keywords: Argonaute; RNAi; Smad; TGF-β; histone modifications; miRNA; post-transcriptional regulation; stem cells.
Copyright © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.