• Pluripotency;
  • Differentiation;
  • Human ESCs;
  • DNA damage response;
  • p53;
  • Acetylation


Oct4 is critical to maintain the pluripotency of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs); however, the underlying mechanism remains to be fully understood. Here, we report that silencing of Oct4 in hESCs leads to the activation of tumor suppressor p53, inducing the differentiation of hESCs since acute disruption of p53 in p53 conditional knockout (p53CKO) hESCs prevents the differentiation of hESCs after Oct4 depletion. We further discovered that the silencing of Oct4 significantly reduces the expression of Sirt1, a deacetylase known to inhibit p53 activity and the differentiation of ESCs, leading to increased acetylation of p53 at lysine 120 and 164. The importance of Sirt1 in mediating Oct4-dependent pluripotency is revealed by the finding that the ectopic expression of Sirt1 in Oct4-silenced hESCs prevents p53 activation and hESC differentiation. In addition, using knock-in approach, we revealed that the acetylation of p53 at lysine 120 and 164 is required for both stabilization and activity of p53 in hESCs. In summary, our findings reveal a novel role of Oct4 in maintaining the pluripotency of hESCs by suppressing pathways that induce differentiation. Considering that p53 suppresses pluripotency after DNA damage response in ESCs, our findings further underscore the stringent mechanism to coordinate DNA damage response pathways and pluripotency pathways in order to maintain the pluripotency and genomic stability of hESCs. Stem Cells 2014;32:157–165