Stress-induced enzyme activation primes murine embryonic stem cells to differentiate toward the first extraembryonic lineage

Jill A Slater, Sichang Zhou, Elizabeth Ella Puscheck, Daniel A Rappolee
Stem Cells and Development 2014 December 15, 23 (24): 3049-64
Extracellular stresses influence transcription factor (TF) expression and therefore lineage identity in the peri-implantation mouse embryo and its stem cells. This potentially affects pregnancy outcome. To understand the effects of stress signaling during this critical period of pregnancy, we exposed cultured murine embryonic stem cells (mESCs) to hyperosmotic stress. We then measured stress-enzyme-dependent regulation of key pluripotency and lineage TFs. Hyperosmotic stress slowed mESC accumulation due to slowing of the cell cycle over 72 h, after a small apoptotic response within 12 h. Phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) enzymatic signaling was responsible for stem cell survival under stressed conditions. Stress initially triggered mESC differentiation after 4 h through MEK1, c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), and PI3K enzymatic signaling, which led to proteasomal degradation of Oct4, Nanog, Sox2, and Rex1 TF proteins. Concurrent with this post-transcriptional effect was the decreased accumulation of potency TF mRNA transcripts. After 12-24 h of stress, cells adapted, cell cycle resumed, and Oct4 and Nanog mRNA and protein expression returned to approximately normal levels. The TF protein recovery was mediated by p38MAPK and PI3K signaling, as well as by MEK2 and/or MEK1. However, due to JNK signaling, Rex1 expression did not recover. Probing for downstream lineages revealed that although mESCs did not differentiate morphologically during 24 h of stress, they were primed to differentiate by upregulating markers of the first lineage differentiating from mESCs, extraembryonic endoderm. Thus, although two to three TFs that mark pluripotency recover expression by 24 h of stress, there is nonetheless sustained Rex1 suppression and a priming of mESCs for differentiation to the earliest lineage.

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