Pluripotency transcription factors and Tet1/2 maintain Brd4-independent stem cell identity

Finley LWS, Vardhana SA, Carey BW, Alonso-Curbelo D, Koche R, Chen Y, Wen D, King B, Radler MR, Rafii S, Lowe SW, Allis CD, Thompson CB

Nat Cell Biol. 2018 May;20(5):565-574. PMID: 29662175


A robust network of transcription factors and an open chromatin landscape are hallmarks of the naive pluripotent state. Recently, the acetyllysine reader Brd4 has been implicated in stem cell maintenance, but the relative contribution of Brd4 to pluripotency remains unclear. Here, we show that Brd4 is dispensable for self-renewal and pluripotency of embryonic stem cells (ESCs). When maintained in their ground state, ESCs retain transcription factor binding and chromatin accessibility independent of Brd4 function or expression. In metastable ESCs, Brd4 independence can be achieved by increased expression of pluripotency transcription factors, including STAT3, Nanog or Klf4, so long as the DNA methylcytosine oxidases Tet1 and Tet2 are present. These data reveal that Brd4 is not essential for ESC self-renewal. Rather, the levels of pluripotency transcription factor abundance and Tet1/2 function determine the extent to which bromodomain recognition of protein acetylation contributes to the maintenance of gene expression and cell identity.