Identifying novel regulators of reprogramming using RNA interference
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Since Yamanaka and Takahashi first described the isolation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) in 2006, researchers have invested a vast amount of time and resources into trying to understand the process of reprogramming. However, the exact mechanisms underlying the induction of somatic cells to pluripotency is still incompletely understood. With this in mind, a screening approach was undertaken to identify shRNA that enhance the reprogramming process. A retrovirus based system was used to knock down candidate genes during reprogramming of mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEF) containing doxycycline-inducible reprogramming factors and a Nanog-GFP reporter, which is activated when cells become iPSCs. The initial round of screening with over 150 shRNA vectors successfully identified several shRNAs that enhance reprogramming. One of these shRNA vectors exhibited both faster reprogramming kinetics as determined by activation of the Nanog-GFP reporter 2 to 3 days earlier and increased reprogramming efficiency giving rise to >5 fold more GFP+ colonies when compared with a control. Cell surface marker analysis with flow cytometry demonstrated that changes in CD44 and ICAM1 expression, which occur preceding Nanog-GFP expression, were also accelerated. Validation of this shRNA determined that the enhanced reprogramming phenotype is the result of an unknown off-target effect. Microarray and RNA-sequencing analysis was carried out to identify the off target gene with a view to investigate the functional importance of this knock down and its role in establishing the pluripotency transcriptional network during reprogramming.