During gastrulation epiblast cells exit pluripotency as they specify and spatially arrange the three germ layers of the embryo. Similarly, human pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) undergo spatially organized fate specification on micropatterned surfaces. Since in vivo validation is not possible for the human, we developed a mouse PSC micropattern system and, with direct comparisons to mouse embryos, reveal the robust specification of distinct regional identities. BMP, WNT, ACTIVIN and FGF directed mouse epiblast-like cells to undergo an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and radially pattern posterior mesoderm fates. Conversely, WNT, ACTIVIN and FGF patterned anterior identities, including definitive endoderm. By contrast, epiblast stem cells, a developmentally advanced state, only specified anterior identities, but without patterning. The mouse micropattern system offers a robust scalable method to generate regionalized cell types present in vivo, resolve how signals promote distinct identities and generate patterns, and compare mechanisms operating in vivo and in vitro and across species.
Spt6 coordinates nucleosome dis- and re-assembly, transcriptional elongation, and mRNA processing. Here, we report that depleting Spt6 in embryonic stem cells (ESCs) reduced expression of pluripotency factors, increased expression of cell-lineage-affiliated developmental regulators, and induced cell morphological and biochemical changes indicative of ESC differentiation. Selective downregulation of pluripotency factors upon Spt6 depletion may be mechanistically explained by its enrichment at ESC super-enhancers, where Spt6 controls histone H3K27 acetylation and methylation and super-enhancer RNA transcription. In ESCs, Spt6 interacted with the PRC2 core subunit Suz12 and prevented H3K27me3 accumulation at ESC super-enhancers and associated promoters. Biochemical as well as functional experiments revealed that Spt6 could compete for binding of the PRC2 methyltransferase Ezh2 to Suz12 and reduce PRC2 chromatin engagement. Thus, in addition to serving as a histone chaperone and transcription elongation factor, Spt6 counteracts repression by opposing H3K27me3 deposition at critical genomic regulatory regions.
Activation of the FGF signaling pathway during preimplantation development of the mouse embryo is known to be essential for differentiation of the inner cell mass and the formation of the primitive endoderm (PrE). We now show using fluorescent reporter knockin lines that Fgfr1 is expressed in all cell populations of the blastocyst, while Fgfr2 expression becomes restricted to extraembryonic lineages, including the PrE. We further show that loss of both receptors prevents the development of the PrE and demonstrate that FGFR1 plays a more prominent role in this process than FGFR2. Finally, we document an essential role for FGFRs in embryonic stem cell (ESC) differentiation, with FGFR1 again having a greater influence than FGFR2 in ESC exit from the pluripotent state. Collectively, these results identify mechanisms through which FGF signaling regulates inner cell mass lineage restriction and cell commitment during preimplantation development.