ELF5-enforced transcriptional networks define an epigenetically regulated trophoblast stem cell compartment in the human placenta

Myriam Hemberger, Ramya Udayashankar, Paul Tesar, Harry Moore, Graham J Burton
Human Molecular Genetics 2010 June 15, 19 (12): 2456-67
The first definitive cell fate decision in development occurs at the blastocyst stage with establishment of the trophoblast and embryonic cell lineages. In the mouse, lineage commitment is achieved by epigenetic regulation of a critical gatekeeper gene, the transcription factor Elf5, that reinforces placental cell fate and is necessary for trophoblast stem (TS) cell self-renewal. In humans, however, the epigenetic lineage boundary seems to be less stringent since human embryonic stem (ES) cells, unlike their murine counterparts, harbour some potential to differentiate into trophoblast derivatives. Here, we show that ELF5 is expressed in the human placenta in villous cytotrophoblast cells but not in post-mitotic syncytiotrophoblast and invasive extravillous cytotrophoblast cells. ELF5 establishes a circuit of mutually interacting transcription factors with CDX2 and EOMES, and the highly proliferative ELF5(+)/CDX2(+) double-positive subset of cytotrophoblast cells demarcates a putative TS cell compartment in the early human placenta. In contrast to placental trophoblast, however, ELF5 is hypermethylated and largely repressed in human ES cells and derived trophoblast cell lines, as well as in induced pluripotent stem cells and murine epiblast stem cells. Thus, these cells exhibit an embryonic lineage-specific epigenetic signature and do not undergo an epigenetic reprogramming to reflect the trophoblast lineage at key loci such as ELF5. Our identification of the trophoblast-specific transcriptional circuit established by ELF5 will be instrumental to derive human TS cell lines that truly reflect early placental trophoblast and that will be most beneficial to gain insights into the aetiology of common pregnancy complications, including intra-uterine growth restriction and pre-eclampsia.

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