Although the POU transcription factor Oct3/4 is pivotal in maintaining self renewal of embryonic stem (ES) cells, little is known of its molecular mechanisms. We previously reported that the N-terminal transactivation domain of Oct3/4 is required for activation of Lefty1 expression (H. Niwa, S. Masui, I. Chambers, A. G. Smith, and J. Miyazaki, Mol. Cell. Biol. 22:1526-1536, 2002). Here we test whether Lefty1 is a direct target of Oct3/4. We identified an ES cell-specific enhancer upstream of the Lefty1 promoter that contains binding sites for Oct3/4 and Sox2. Unlike other known Oct3/4-Sox2-dependent enhancers, however, this enhancer element could not be activated by Oct3/4 and Sox2 in differentiated cells. By functional screening of ES-specific transcription factors, we found that Krüppel-like factor 4 (Klf4) cooperates with Oct3/4 and Sox2 to activate Lefty1 expression, and that Klf4 acts as a mediating factor that specifically binds to the proximal element of the Lefty1 promoter. DNA microarray analysis revealed that a subset of putative Oct3/4 target genes may be regulated in the same manner. Our findings shed light on a novel function of Oct3/4 in ES cells.
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