Understanding the first steps in embryonic stem cell exit from the pluripotent state
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BACKGROUND: We are interested in understanding how a given cell type, in response to external cues from its environment, makes the decision to differentiate. In the case of mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs), the key external factor that maintains their undifferentiated state is the cytokine leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF). LIF removal causes mESCs to exit their pluripotent state and differentiate into more restricted precursors. Although LIF is known to activate multiple different phosphorylation cascades, the mechanisms by which its removal leads to mESC differentiation are not well understood. STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: In order to identify the molecular events that occur upon LIF removal, we developed a set of novel experimental approaches that allowed identification and quantification of global phosphorylation changes that occur when mESCs are deprived of LIF. These included growth of mESCs on permeable membranes and development of a robust and sensitive phospho-proteomics platform to quantify early signaling events. RESULTS: In addition to the well-characterized tyrosine 705 phosphorylation of STAT3, LIF removal results in the rapid phosphorylation of multiple other proteins known to regulate the mESC self-renewal on both tyrosine, serine, and threonine residues. We hypothesize that these unique posttranslational modifications help drive the exit of mESCs from the pluripotent state. CONCLUSIONS: Our data set the stage for future studies investigating the functional role of these phosphorylation events in mESCs. These studies were greatly facilitated by the National Blood Foundation, whose support in the crucial initiation phase of these studies was invaluable.
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