The Distinct Role of Tcfs and Lef1 in the Self-Renewal or Differentiation of Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells

Int J Stem Cells. 2020 Jul 30;13(2):192-201. doi: 10.15283/ijsc20044.


Background and objectives: Tcfs and Lef1 are DNA-binding transcriptional factors in the canonical Wnt signaling pathway. In the absence of β-catenin, Tcfs and Lef1 generally act as transcriptional repressors with co-repressor proteins such as Groucho, CtBP, and HIC-5. However, Tcfs and Lef1 turn into transcriptional activators during the interaction with β-catenin. Therefore, the activity of Tcfs and Lef1 is regulated by β-catenin. However, the intrinsic role of Tcfs and Lef1 has yet to be examined. The purpose of this study was to determine whether Tcfs and Lef1 play differential roles in the regulation of self-renewal and differentiation of mouse ES cells.

Methods and results: Interestingly, the expression of Tcfs and Lef1 was dynamically altered under various differentiation conditions, such as removal of LIF, EB formation and neuronal differentiation in N2B27 media, suggesting that the function of each Tcf and Lef1 may vary in ES cells. Ectopic expression of Tcf1 or the dominant negative form of Lef1 (Lef1-DN) contributes to ES cells to self-renew in the absence of leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), whereas ectopic expression of Tcf3, Lef1 or Tcf1-DN did not support ES cells to self-renew. Ectopic expression of either Lef1 or Lef1-DN blocked neuronal differentiation, suggesting that the transient induction of Lef1 was necessary for the initiation and progress of differentiation. ChIP analysis shows that Tcf1 bound to Nanog promoter and ectopic expression of Tcf1 enhanced the transcription of Nanog.

Conclusions: The overall data suggest that Tcf1 plays a critical role in the maintenance of stemness whereas Lef1 is involved in the initiation of differentiation.

Keywords: Differentiation; ES cell; Self-renewal; Tcf/Lef1; Wnt.