Post-translational regulation of Nanog and Nanog-interacting proteins in mouse embryonic stem cells
Roy, Marcia Michelle
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Pluripotent embryonic stem cells (ESCs) possess an unlimited capacity for self-renewal. This property of ES cells is both defining and unique. Harnessing this potential of ESCs would provide tremendous opportunity in the field of regenerative medicine and its attempts to combat degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, etc. In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka was able to demonstrate that the ectopic expression of four proteins could reverse the process of differentiation and provide somatic cells with the characteristics ESCs. One year later, James Thompson’s group proved the same feat could be accomplished in human somatic cells using a different set of four proteins, including Nanog. The prospect of converting one’s own cells into a stem cell which could subsequently differentiate and repopulate an area of the body afflicted by gross degeneration was revolutionary. In the years following Yamanaka’s and Thompson’s discoveries, however, there has been little insight gained into how these proteins are regulated post-translationally. In this study, four proteins which had previously been identified by Yamanaka as being ‘pluripotency factors’ were used as baits in order to ascertain a protein-protein interaction network. This network was subsequently interrogated using various chemical compounds and small molecules in order to dissect the signal transduction pathways feeding into pluripotency, as well as, post-translational modifications regulating the factors themselves. In this way, the chemical inhibitor H89 was found to decrease the presence of Nanog phosphorylation and possibly its dimerization resulting in the Nanog protein being destabilized and targeted for degradation. Inversely, the pan-cullin inhibitor MLN4924 was identified to increase the abundance of both phosphorylated Nanog and total Nanog protein. In an attempt to identify the Cullin Ring Ligase (CRL) responsible for the degradation of Nanog protein in ESCs, each cullin identified in the protein interaction network was inhibited using specific shRNAs. Quantitative fluorescence microscopy was performed and identified that inhibition of CUL3 increases Nanog protein levels, suggesting that a CUL3-based CRL may be responsible for the post-translation regulation of Nanog. Additionally, the quantitation of Sox2 protein levels in CUL4B shRNA cell line demonstrates that Sox2 protein levels may be regulated by a CUL4B-based CRL. Further studies will reveal whether or not CUL4A depletion also results in elevated Sox2 protein levels. If not, this would include the pluripotency factor Sox2 among the recently identified CUL4B-isoform-specific substrates for degradation and possibly provide the basis for a hypothesis of developmentally regulated substrate specificity. In addition to MLN4924, several other small molecules were identified as being able to increase phospho-Nanog protein levels in this study. Among them were the cell permeable peptides Ht-31 and PKI (14-22) amide. These peptides were found to both stabilize phospho-Nanog and produce ES cell colonies that uniformly express the Nanog protein. The development of a growth medium containing these peptides in order to maintain homogeneous pluripotent ES cells is currently in progress and received backing for a patent application by the University of Edinburgh on February 23, 2012.