The discovery of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells provides not only new approaches for cell replacement therapy, but also new ways for drug screening. However, the undefined mechanism and relatively low efficiency of reprogramming have limited the application of iPS cells. In an attempt to further optimize the reprogramming condition, we unexpectedly observed that removing c-Myc from the Oct-4, Sox-2, Klf-4, and c-Myc (OSKM) combination greatly enhanced the generation of iPS cells. The iPS cells generated without c-Myc attained salient pluripotent characteristics and were capable of producing full-term mice through tetraploid complementation. We observed that forced expression of c-Myc induced the expression of many genes involved in cell cycle control and a hyperproliferation state of the mouse embryonic fibroblasts during the early stage of reprogramming. This enhanced proliferation of mouse embryonic fibroblasts correlated negatively to the overall reprogramming efficiency. By applying small molecule inhibitors of cell proliferation at the early stage of reprogramming, we were able to improve the efficiency of iPS cell generation mediated by OSKM. Our data demonstrated that the proliferation rate of the somatic cell plays critical roles in reprogramming. Slowing down the proliferation of the original cells might be beneficial to the induction of iPS cells.
Environmental stress-mediated adaptation plays essential roles in the evolution of life. Cellular adaptation mechanisms usually involve the regulation of chromatin structure, transcription, mRNA stability and translation, which eventually lead to efficient changes in gene expression. Global epigenetic change is also involved in the reprogramming of somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells by defined factors. Here we report that environmental stress such as hyperosmosis not only facilitates four factor-mediated reprogramming, but also enhances two or one factor-induced iPS cell generation. Hyperosmosis-induced p38 activation plays a critical role in this process. Constitutive active p38 mimics the positive effect of hyperosmosis, while dominant negative p38 and p38 inhibitor block the effect of hyperosmosis. Further study indicates stress-mediated p38 activation may promote reprogramming by reducing the global DNA methylation level and enhancing the expression of pluripotency genes. Our results demonstrate how simple environmental stress like hyperosmosis helps to alter the fate of cells via intracellular signaling and epigenetic modulation.
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