Identification of the missing pluripotency mediator downstream of leukaemia inhibitory factor

11 Jan 2018

Self-renewal of pluripotent mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells is sustained by the cytokine leukaemia inhibitory factor (LIF) acting through the transcription factor Stat3. Several targets of Stat3 have previously been identified, most notably the reprogramming factor Klf4. However, such factors are neither required nor sufficient for the potent effect of LIF. We took advantage of Stat3 null ES cells to confirm that Stat3 mediates the self-renewal response to LIF. Through comparative transcriptome analysis intersected with genome location data, we arrived at a set of candidate transcription factor effectors. Among these, Tfcp2l1 (also known as Crtr-1) was most abundant. Constitutive expression of Tfcp2l1 at levels similar to those induced by LIF effectively substituted for LIF or Stat3 in sustaining clonal self-renewal and pluripotency. Conversely, knockdown of Tfcp2l1 profoundly compromised responsiveness to LIF. We further found that Tfcp2l1 is both necessary and sufficient to direct molecular reprogramming of post-implantation epiblast stem cells to naïve pluripotency. These results establish Tfcp2l1 as the principal bridge between LIF/Stat3 input and the transcription factor core of naïve pluripotency.