Vitamin C induces a pluripotent state in mouse embryonic stem cells by modulating microRNA expression

Yuan Gao, Zhuo Han, Qian Li, Yongyan Wu, Xiaoyan Shi, Zhiying Ai, Juan Du, Wenzhong Li, Zekun Guo, Yong Zhang
FEBS Journal 2015, 282 (4): 685-99
MicroRNAs (miRNAs), a group of noncoding RNAs, function as post-transcriptional gene regulators and control the establishment, self-renewal and differentiation of stem cells. Vitamin C has been recognized as a reprogramming enhancer because of its ability to induce a blastocyst-like state in embryonic stem cells (ESCs). However, knowledge on the regulation of miRNAs by vitamin C in ESCs is limited. In this study, we found that vitamin C induced miRNA expression, particularly of ESC-specific miRNAs. Moreover, vitamin C maintained the miRNA expression of the Dlk1-Dio3 imprinting region. The miRNAs in this region contain identical seed sequences, which target a class of genes, including Kdm6b, Klf13, and Sox6, and are mainly related to cell differentiation and development. These genes were significantly downregulated by vitamin C. Notably, miR-143 promoted self-renewal of mouse ESCs and suppressed expression of the de novo methyltransferase gene Dnmt3a. Knockdown of miR-143 by use of its inhibitor counteracted the vitamin C-induced reduction in Dnmt3a expression, showing that vitamin C repressed Dnmt3a expression via miR-143. Vitamin C also promoted DNA demethylation, including of pluripotency gene promoters (Tbx3, Tcl1, and Esrrb) and ESC-specific miRNA promoters (miR-290-295 and miR-17-92 clusters), and DNA hydroxymethylation, including of the intergenic differentially methylated region of the Dlk1-Dio3 region. These results strongly suggested that vitamin C promoted widespread DNA demethylation in gene promoters by modulating epigenetic modifiers, including Dnmt3a, which activated pluripotency genes and ESC-specific miRNAs. Then, differentiation and development genes were repressed by ESC-enriched miRNAs, which maintained the stem cell state.

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