Conservation and variation of gene regulation in embryonic stem cells assessed by comparative genomics

Abstract

We have examined the gene structure and regulatory regions of octamer-binding transcription factor 3/4 (Oct 3/4), sex determining region Y box 2 (Sox2), signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (Stat3), embryonal stem cell-specific gene 1 (ESG), nanog homeobox (Nanog), and several other genes highly expressed in embryonic stem (ES) cells across different species. Our analysis showed that ES cell-expressed Ras (ERAS) was orthologous to a human pseudogene Harvey Ras (HRASP) and that the promoter and other regulatory sequences were highly divergent. No ortholog of (ES) cell-derived homeobox containing gene (Ehox) could be identified in human, and the closest paralogs PEPP gene subfamily 1 (PEPP1), PEPP2, and extraembryonic, spermatogenesis, homeobox 1 (Esx1) were not expressed by ES cells and shared little homology. The Sox2 promoter was the most conserved across species and the Oct3/4 promoter region showed significant homology particularly in the distal enhancer active in ES cells. Analysis suggested common and divergent pathways of regulation. Conserved Oct3/4 and Sox2 co-binding domains were identified in most ES expressed genes, highlighting the importance of this transcriptional pathway. Conserved fibroblast growth factor response element sites were identified in regulatory regions, suggesting a potential parallel pathway for regulation by FGFs. A central role of Stat3 activation in self-renewal and in a regulatory feedback loop was suggested by the identification of the conserved binding sites in most pathways. Although most pathways were evolutionarily conserved, promoters and genomic structure of the leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) pathway components were divergent, likely explaining the differential requirement of LIF for human and rodent cells. Our analysis further suggested that the Nanog regulatory pathway was relatively independent of the LIF/Oct pathway and may interact with the Nodal/transforming growth factor-β pathway. These results provide a framework for examining the current reported differences between rodent and human ES cells and define targets for future perturbation studies.

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