POU transcription factor Pou5f1 (Oct3/4) is required to maintain ES cells in an undifferentiated state. Here we show that global expression profiling of Oct3/4-manipulated ES cells delineates the downstream target genes of Oct3/4. Combined with data from genome-wide chromatin-immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays, this analysis identifies not only primary downstream targets of Oct3/4, but also secondary or tertiary targets. Furthermore, the analysis also reveals that downstream target genes are regulated either positively or negatively by Oct3/4. Identification of a group of genes that show both activation and repression depending on Oct3/4 expression levels provides a possible mechanism for the requirement of appropriate Oct3/4 expression to maintain undifferentiated ES cells. As a proof-of-principle study, one of the downstream genes, Tcl1, has been analyzed in detail. We show that Oct3/4 binds to the promoter region of Tcl1 and activates its transcription. We also show that Tcl1 is involved in the regulation of proliferation, but not differentiation, in ES cells. These findings suggest that the global expression profiling of gene-manipulated ES cells can help to delineate the structure and dynamics of gene regulatory networks.
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