Protein interactions underpinning pluripotency
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Embryonic stem (ES) cells are maintained in an undifferentiated state by a gene regulatory network centred on the triumvirate of transcription factors Nanog, Oct4 and Sox2. Genome-wide chromatin immunoprecipitation studies indicate that in many cases target genes contain closely localised binding sites for each of these proteins, as well as additional members of the extended pluripotency transcription factor network. However, the biochemical basis of the interactions between these proteins is largely unknown, as are the mechanisms by which these interactions control ES cell identity. By purifying Nanog from ES cells and identifying co-purified proteins, we determined a Nanog interactome of over 130 proteins including transcription factors, chromatin modifying complexes, phosphorylation and ubiquitination enzymes, basal transcriptional machinery members and RNA processing factors. Validation of interactions was obtained by co-immunoprecipitation of Nanog with putative partners. Sox2 was identified as a robust interacting partner of Nanog and the interaction was investigated further. We show that the interaction is independent of DNA binding and that a region of Nanog known as tryptophan repeat, in which tryptophan is present every 5th residue is necessary and sufficient for the binding of Sox2. Furthermore, mutation of tryptophan residues within the Nanog tryptophan repeat (WR) abolishes the interaction with Sox2. A region of Sox2 known as serine rich region, a triple-repeat motif (S X T/S Y) within a stretch of 21 residues is required for the interaction with Nanog. Mutation of tyrosines to alanine within the three motifs (S X T/S Y) abrogates the Nanog–Sox2 interaction. The disruption of the Nanog-Sox2 interaction results in the alteration of expression of genes associated with the Nanog-Sox2 cognate sequence, and reduces the ability of Sox2 to rescue ES cell differentiation induced by endogenous Sox2 deletion. Substitution of the tyrosines of the motif with phenylalanine rescues both the Sox2–Nanog interaction and efficient self-renewal. These results suggest that aromatic stacking of Nanog tryptophans and Sox2 tyrosines mediates an interaction central to ES cell self-renewal. Together these data shed light on the extent of the interactions of Nanog with protein partners as well as the biochemical nature of the interaction between Nanog and one of the most important partners Sox2, an interaction crucial for maintaining optimal mouse ES cell self-renewal efficiency.