AKT signaling is associated with epigenetic reprogramming via the upregulation of TET and its cofactor, alpha-ketoglutarate during iPSC generation

Stem Cell Res Ther. 2021 Sep 25;12(1):510. doi: 10.1186/s13287-021-02578-1.


Background: Phosphoinositide-3 kinase (PI3K)/AKT signaling participates in cellular proliferation, survival and tumorigenesis. The activation of AKT signaling promotes the cellular reprogramming including generation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and dedifferentiation of primordial germ cells (PGCs). Previous studies suggested that AKT promotes reprogramming by activating proliferation and glycolysis. Here we report a line of evidence that supports the notion that AKT signaling is involved in TET-mediated DNA demethylation during iPSC induction.

Methods: AKT signaling was activated in mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) that were transduced with OCT4, SOX2 and KLF4. Multiomics analyses were conducted in this system to examine the effects of AKT activation on cells undergoing reprogramming.

Results: We revealed that cells undergoing reprogramming with artificially activated AKT exhibit enhanced anabolic glucose metabolism and accordingly increased level of cytosolic α-ketoglutarate (αKG), which is an essential cofactor for the enzymatic activity of the 5-methylcytosine (5mC) dioxygenase TET. Additionally, the level of TET is upregulated. Consistent with the upregulation of αKG production and TET, we observed a genome-wide increase in 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), which is an intermediate in DNA demethylation. Moreover, the DNA methylation level of ES-cell super-enhancers of pluripotency-related genes is significantly decreased, leading to the upregulation of associated genes. Finally, the transduction of TET and the administration of cell-permeable αKG to somatic cells synergistically enhance cell reprogramming by Yamanaka factors.

Conclusion: These results suggest the possibility that the activation of AKT during somatic cell reprogramming promotes epigenetic reprogramming through the hyperactivation of TET at the transcriptional and catalytic levels.

Keywords: AKT signal; DNA demethylation; Reprogramming; TET; iPS cells; αKG.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cellular Reprogramming / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells* / metabolism
  • Ketoglutaric Acids
  • Kruppel-Like Factor 4
  • Mice
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Ketoglutaric Acids
  • Klf4 protein, mouse
  • Kruppel-Like Factor 4
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt