HMGA1 and HMGA2 are chromatin architectural proteins that do not have transcriptional activity per se, but are able to modify chromatin structure by interacting with the transcriptional machinery and thus negatively or positively regulate the transcription of several genes. They have been extensively studied in cancer where they are often found to be overexpressed but their functions under physiologic conditions have still not been completely addressed. Hmga1 and Hmga2 are expressed during the early stages of mouse development, whereas they are not detectable in most adult tissues. Hmga overexpression or knockout studies in mouse have pointed to a key function in the development of the embryo and of various tissues. HMGA proteins are expressed in embryonic stem cells and in some adult stem cells and numerous experimental data have indicated that they play a fundamental role in the maintenance of stemness and in the regulation of differentiation. In this review, we discuss available experimental data on HMGA1 and HMGA2 functions in governing embryonic and adult stem cell fate. Moreover, based on the available evidence, we will aim to outline how HMGA expression is regulated in different contexts and how these two proteins contribute to the regulation of gene expression and chromatin architecture in stem cells.
Keywords: LIN28; adult stem cells; cell reprogramming; embryonic stem cells; gene regulation; high mobility group proteins; miRNAs; regulation of translation.