Wnt/β-catenin signaling promotes self-renewal and inhibits the primed state transition in naïve human embryonic stem cells

Zhuojin Xu, Aaron M. Robitaille, Jason D. Berndt, Kathryn C. Davidson, Karin A. Fischer, Julie Mathieu, Jennifer C. Potter, Hannele Ruohola-Baker, Randall T. Moon

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56 Citations (Scopus)


In both mice and humans, pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) exist in at least two distinct states of pluripotency, known as the naïve and primed states. Our understanding of the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that enable PSCs to self-renew and to transition between different pluripotent states is important for understanding early development. In mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs), Wnt proteins stimulate mESC self-renewal and support the naïve state. In human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), Wnt/β-catenin signaling is active in naïve-state hESCs and is reduced or absent in primed-state hESCs. However, the role of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in naïve hESCs remains largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate that inhibition of the secretion of Wnts or inhibition of the stabilization of β-catenin in naïve hESCs reduces cell proliferation and colony formation. Moreover, we show that addition of recombinant Wnt3a partially rescues cell proliferation in naïve hESCs caused by inhibition of Wnt secretion. Notably, inhibition of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in naïve hESCs did not cause differentiation. Instead, it induced primed hESC-like proteomic and metabolic profiles. Thus, our results suggest that naïve hESCs secrete Wnts that activate autocrine or paracrine Wnt/β-catenin signaling to promote efficient self-renewal and inhibit the transition to the primed state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E6382-E6390
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number42
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2016


  • Human embryonic stem cells
  • Naïve pluripotency
  • Naïve-to-primed transition
  • Self-renewal
  • Wnt/β-catenin signaling

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