International Journal of Molecular Sciences (Aug 2021)

Cell-Permeable <i>Oct4</i> Gene Delivery Enhances Stem Cell-like Properties of Mouse Embryonic Fibroblasts

  • Da Hyeon Choi,
  • Kyeong Eun Lee,
  • Jiwon Park,
  • Yoon Jeong Park,
  • Jue-Yeon Lee,
  • Yoon Shin Park

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 22, no. 17
p. 9357


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Direct conversion of one cell type into another is a trans-differentiation process. Recent advances in fibroblast research revealed that epithelial cells can give rise to fibroblasts by epithelial-mesenchymal transition. Conversely, fibroblasts can also give rise to epithelia by undergoing a mesenchymal to epithelial transition. To elicit stem cell-like properties in fibroblasts, the Oct4 transcription factor acts as a master transcriptional regulator for reprogramming somatic cells. Notably, the production of gene complexes with cell-permeable peptides, such as low-molecular-weight protamine (LMWP), was proposed to induce reprogramming without cytotoxicity and genomic mutation. We designed a complex with non-cytotoxic LMWP to prevent the degradation of Oct4 and revealed that the positively charged cell-permeable LMWP helped condense the size of the Oct4-LMWP complexes (1:5 N:P ratio). When the Oct4-LMWP complex was delivered into mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs), stemness-related gene expression increased while fibroblast intrinsic properties decreased. We believe that the Oct4-LMWP complex developed in this study can be used to reprogram terminally differentiated somatic cells or convert them into stem cell-like cells without risk of cell death, improving the stemness level and stability of existing direct conversion techniques.