Iwafuchi-Doi, M., Yoshida, Y., Onichtchouk, D., Leichsenring, M., Driever, W., Takemoto, T., Uchikawa, M., Kamachi, Y., and Kondoh, H. (2011) The Pou5f1/Pou3f-dependent but SoxB-independent regulation of conserved enhancer N2 initiates Sox2 expression during epiblast to neural plate stages in vertebrates. Developmental Biology. 352(2):354-366.
The transcription factor Sox2 is a core component of the pluripotency control circuits in the early embryo, and later controls many aspects of neural development. Here, we demonstrate that Sox2 expression in the epiblast (mouse blastoderm) and anterior neural plate (ANP) is determined by the upstream enhancer N2. The mouse enhancer N2 exhibits strong activity in mouse ES cells, epiblast and ANP, and is regulated correctly in chicken and zebrafish embryos. Targeted deletion of this enhancer in mouse embryos caused a large reduction of Sox2 expression to 10% of that of wild type levels in epiblast and ANP. However, this was tolerated by mouse embryo, probably due to functional compensation by Sox3. The activity of enhancer N2 depends on phylogenetically conserved bipartite POU factor binding motifs in a 73-bp core sequence that function synergistically, but this activation does not involve Sox2. The major POU factor expressed at the epiblastic stage is Pou5f1 (Oct3/4), while those in the anterior neural plate are Pou3f factors (Oct6, Brn2 etc.). These factors are gradually exchanged during the transition from epiblast to ANP stages in mouse embryos and epiblast stem cells (EpiSC). Consistently, enhancer N2 activity changes from full Pou5f1 dependence to Pou3f dependence during the development of neural plate cells (NPC) from EpiSC, as assessed by specific POU factor knockdown in these cells. Zebrafish mutant embryos completely devoid of Pou5f1 activity failed to activate enhancer N2 and to express Sox2 in the blastoderm and ANP, and these defects were rescued by exogenous supply of pou5f1. Previously, Pou5f1-Sox2 synergism-dependent Sox2 activation through enhancer SRR2 in ES cells has been highlighted, but this mechanism is limited to ES cells and amniotes. In contrast, the enhancer N2-mediated, POU factor-dependent activation of Sox2, without involvement of Sox2, is a phylogenetically conserved core mechanism that functions in gene regulatory networks at early embryonic stages.