Using small molecules to improve generation of induced pluripotent stem cells from somatic cells

Caroline Desponts, Sheng Ding
Methods in Molecular Biology 2010, 636: 207-18
Induction of pluripotent stem cells from somatic cells by defined factors was shown to be possible only recently, but already several laboratories have made tremendous strive toward improving and understanding the process. Originally, Oct4, Sox2, Klf4, and cMyc were identified as being the combination of genes necessary to induce reprogramming. It was later shown that cMyc was dispensable; however, in its absence the process was less efficient and took a considerably longer period of time to occur. Furthermore, others have shown that the combination of Oct4, Sox2, Nanog, and Lin28 could also induce reprogramming. One major caveat associated with these techniques remains the need for overexpression of several genes using viral systems. Until very recently, most studies were done using integrating viruses such as retroviruses and lentiviruses. This method ensured that the protein of interested would be expressed at a high concentration and for an adequate period of time necessary to induce reprogramming. Up to date, others have now been able to use different nonintegrative method such as adenovirus and plasmid transfection to induce reprogramming. Furthermore, piggyBac transposition was successfully used to induce reprogramming of murine cells. Most importantly, it was recently published that reprogramming can be induced in the absence of virus, with proteins and small molecules. All of the later methods are appealing since they do not require the integration of the virus or plasmid to exert its effect. However, one avenue that would be all the more therapeutically appealing would be to induce reprogramming in the absence of gene overexpression systems, using small molecules to modulate signaling pathways in the somatic cells. A few molecules have already been identified with the ability to either improve the process or replace one or two of the genes deemed necessary for reprogramming. We have screened successfully for compounds that can replace some of these factors, and share the methods developed following these screens.

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