The molecular regulation of zygotic genome activation (ZGA) in mammals remains an exciting area of research. Primed mouse embryonic stem cells contain a rare subset of "2C-like" cells that are epigenetically and transcriptionally similar to the two-cell embryo and thus represent an in vitro approximation for studying ZGA transcription regulation. Recently, the transcription factor Dux, expressed in the minor wave of ZGA, was described to activate many downstream ZGA transcripts. However, it remains unknown what upstream maternal factors initiate ZGA in either a Dux-dependent or Dux-independent manner. Here we performed a candidate-based overexpression screen, identifying, among others, developmental pluripotency-associated 2 (Dppa2) and Dppa4 as positive regulators of 2C-like cells and transcription of ZGA genes. In the germline, promoter DNA demethylation coincides with expression of Dppa2 and Dppa4, which remain expressed until embryonic day 7.5 (E7.5), when their promoters are remethylated. Furthermore, Dppa2 and Dppa4 are also expressed during induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) reprogramming at the time that 2C-like transcription transiently peaks. Through a combination of overexpression, knockdown, knockout, and rescue experiments together with transcriptional analyses, we show that Dppa2 and Dppa4 directly regulate the 2C-like cell population and associated transcripts, including Dux and the Zscan4 cluster. Importantly, we teased apart the molecular hierarchy in which the 2C-like transcriptional program is initiated and stabilized. Dppa2 and Dppa4 require Dux to initiate 2C-like transcription, suggesting that they act upstream by directly regulating Dux. Supporting this, ChIP-seq (chromatin immunoprecipitation [ChIP] combined with high-throughput sequencing) analysis revealed that Dppa2 and Dppa4 bind to the Dux promoter and gene body and drive its expression. Zscan4c is also able to induce 2C-like cells in wild-type cells but, in contrast to Dux, can no longer do so in Dppa2/4 double-knockout cells, suggesting that it may act to stabilize rather than drive the transcriptional network. Our findings suggest a model in which Dppa2/4 binding to the Dux promoter leads to Dux up-regulation and activation of the 2C-like transcriptional program, which is subsequently reinforced by Zscan4c.
Genes & development, PMID: 30692203