The neural fate is generally considered to be the intrinsic direction of embryonic stem (ES) cell differentiation. However, little is known about the intracellular mechanism that leads undifferentiated cells to adopt the neural fate in the absence of extrinsic inductive signals. Here we show that the zinc-finger nuclear protein Zfp521 is essential and sufficient for driving the intrinsic neural differentiation of mouse ES cells. In the absence of the neural differentiation inhibitor BMP4, strong Zfp521 expression is intrinsically induced in differentiating ES cells. Forced expression of Zfp521 enables the neural conversion of ES cells even in the presence of BMP4. Conversely, in differentiation culture, Zfp521-depleted ES cells do not undergo neural conversion but tend to halt at the epiblast state. Zfp521 directly activates early neural genes by working with the co-activator p300. Thus, the transition of ES cell differentiation from the epiblast state into neuroectodermal progenitors specifically depends on the cell-intrinsic expression and activator function of Zfp521.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes