The developmental potential of cells, termed pluripotency, is highly dynamic and progresses through a continuum of naive, formative and primed states. Pluripotency progression of mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) from naive to formative and primed state is governed by transcription factors (TFs) and their target genes. Genomic techniques have uncovered a multitude of TF binding sites in ESCs, yet a major challenge lies in identifying target genes from functional binding sites and reconstructing dynamic transcriptional networks underlying pluripotency progression. Here, we integrated time-resolved 'trans-omic' datasets together with TF binding profiles and chromatin conformation data to identify target genes of a panel of TFs. Our analyses revealed that naive TF target genes are more likely to be TFs themselves than those of formative TFs, suggesting denser hierarchies among naive TFs. We also discovered that formative TF target genes are marked by permissive epigenomic signatures in the naive state, indicating that they are poised for expression prior to the initiation of pluripotency transition to the formative state. Finally, our reconstructed transcriptional networks pinpointed the precise timing from naive to formative pluripotency progression and enabled the spatiotemporal mapping of differentiating ESCs to their in vivo counterparts in developing embryos.
© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.