Probing the role of stochasticity in a model of the embryonic stem cell – heterogeneous gene expression and reprogramming efficiency
Mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs), derived from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst, are pluripotent stem cells having self-renewal capability and the potential of differentiating into every cell type under the appropriate culture conditions. An increasing number of reports have been published to uncover the molecular mechanisms that orchestrate pluripotency and cell fate specification using combined computational and experimental methodologies. Here, we review recent systems biology approaches to describe the causes and functions of gene expression heterogeneity and complex temporal dynamics of pluripotency markers in mESCs under uniform culture conditions. In particular, we focus on the dynamics of Nanog, a key regulator of the core pluripotency network and of mESC fate. We summarize the strengths and limitations of different experimental and modeling approaches and discuss how various strategies could be used.