The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 54: 1545 - 1564 (2010)

Vol 54, Issue 11-12

Special Issue: Animal Cloning & Cell Reprogramming

Natural and artificial routes to pluripotency

Review | Published: 17 February 2011

Winfried H. Krueger1,2,4, Lindsey C. Swanson3,4, Borko Tanasijevic3,4 and Theodore P. Rasmussen*1,2,3,4

1Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Pharmacy, University of Connecticut, 2University of Connecticut Stem Cell Institute, University of Connecticut, 3Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Connecticut and 4Center for Regenerative Biology, University of Connecticut, USA


Pluripotent cells of the blastocyst inner cell mass (ICM) and their in vitro derivatives, embryonic stem (ES) cells, contain genomes in an epigenetic state that are poised for subsequent differentiation. Their chromatin is hyperdynamic in nature and relatively uncondensed. In addition, a large number of genes are expressed at low levels in both ICM and ES cells. Also, the chromatin of naturally pluripotent cells contains specialized histone modification patterns such as bivalent domains, which mark genes destined for later developmentally-regulated expression states. Female pluripotent cells contain X chromosomes that have yet to undergo the process of X chromosome inactivation. Collectively, these features of very early embyronic chromatin are required for the successful specification and production of differentiated cell lineages. Artificial reprogramming methods such as somatic nuclear transfer (SCNT), ES cell fusion-mediated reprogramming (FMR), and induced pluripotency (iPS) yield pluripotent cells that recapitulate many features of naturally pluripotent cells, including many of their epigenetic features. However, the route to pluripotent epigenomic states in artificial pluripotent cells differs drastically from that of their natural counterparts. Here, we compare and contrast the differing routes to pluripotency under natural and artificial conditions. In addition, we discuss the intrinsically metastable nature of the pluripotent epigenome and consider epigenetic aspects of reprogramming that may lead to incomplete or inaccurate reprogrammed states. Artificial methods of reprogramming hold immense promise for the development of autologous cell graft sources and for the development of cell culture models for human genetic disorders. However, the utility of artificially reprogrammed cells is highly dependent on the fidelity of the reprogramming process and it is therefore critically important to assess the epigenetic similarities between embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells.


reprogramming, pluripotency, gametogenesis, preimplantation development, epigenetics

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