Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) can undergo unlimited self-renewal and retain the pluripotency to differentiate into all cell types in the body, thus holding great promise as a renewable source of cells for human therapy. The mechanisms that maintain self-renewal of ESCs remain unclear. Here we show that Nanog, a transcription factor crucial for the self-renewal of ESCs, is phosphorylated at multiple Ser/Thr-Pro motifs. This phosphorylation promotes the interaction between Nanog and the prolyl isomerase Pin1, leading to Nanog stabilization by suppressing its ubiquitination. Inhibition of Pin1 activity or disruption of Pin1-Nanog interaction in ESCs suppresses their capability to self-renew and to form teratomas in immunodeficient mice. Therefore, in addition to the stringent transcriptional regulation of Nanog, the expression level of Nanog is also modulated by posttranslational mechanisms.
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