Evolutionary origin of vertebrate OCT4/POU5 functions in supporting pluripotency

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The support of pluripotent cells over time is an essential feature of development. In eutherian embryos, pluripotency is maintained from naïve states in peri-implantation to primed pluripotency at gastrulation. To understand how these states emerged, we reconstruct the evolutionary trajectory of the Pou5 gene family, which contains the central pluripotency factor OCT4. By coupling evolutionary sequence analysis with functional studies in mouse embryonic stem cells, we find that the ability of POU5 proteins to support pluripotency originated in the gnathostome lineage, prior to the generation of two paralogues, Pou5f1 and Pou5f3 via gene duplication. In osteichthyans, retaining both genes, the paralogues differ in their support of naïve and primed pluripotency. The specialization of these duplicates enables the diversification of function in self-renewal and differentiation. By integrating sequence evolution, cell phenotypes, developmental contexts and structural modelling, we pinpoint OCT4 regions sufficient for naïve pluripotency and describe their adaptation over evolutionary time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5537
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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