Open Access Research

The endogenous retrovirus ENS-1 provides active binding sites for transcription factors in embryonic stem cells that specify extra embryonic tissue

Anne Mey1*, Hervé Acloque23, Emmanuelle Lerat4, Sébastien Gounel1, Violaine Tribollet1, Sophie Blanc1, Damien Curton1, Anne-Marie Birot1, M Angela Nieto2 and Jacques Samarut1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut de Génomique Fonctionnelle de Lyon, Université de Lyon, Université Lyon 1, CNRS, INRA, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, 46 allée d'Italie, 69364 Lyon Cedex 07, France

2 Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante, CSIC-UMH, Avda. Ramón y Cajal s/n, 03550 Sant Joan d'Alacant, Spain

3 Laboratoire de Genetique Cellulaire-INRA, ENVT, Chemin de Borde Rouge BP52627, 31326 Castanet Tolosan, France

4 Université de Lyon, Lyon, F-69003, France; université Lyon 1, Villeurbanne, F-69622 cedex, France; CNRS, UMR5558, Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive, 43 bd du 11 Novembre 1918, Villeurbanne F-69622 cedex, France

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Retrovirology 2012, 9:21  doi:10.1186/1742-4690-9-21

Published: 15 March 2012



Long terminal repeats (LTR) from endogenous retroviruses (ERV) are source of binding sites for transcription factors which affect the host regulatory networks in different cell types, including pluripotent cells. The embryonic epiblast is made of pluripotent cells that are subjected to opposite transcriptional regulatory networks to give rise to distinct embryonic and extraembryonic lineages. To assess the transcriptional contribution of ERV to early developmental processes, we have characterized in vitro and in vivo the regulation of ENS-1, a host adopted and developmentally regulated ERV that is expressed in chick embryonic stem cells.


We show that Ens-1 LTR activity is controlled by two transcriptional pathways that drive pluripotent cells to alternative developmental fates. Indeed, both Nanog that maintains pluripotency and Gata4 that induces differentiation toward extraembryonic endoderm independently activate the LTR. Ets coactivators are required to support Gata factors' activity thus preventing inappropriate activation before epigenetic silencing occurs during differentiation. Consistent with their expression patterns during chick embryonic development, Gata4, Nanog and Ets1 are recruited on the LTR in embryonic stem cells; in the epiblast the complementary expression of Nanog and Gata/Ets correlates with the Ens-1 gene expression pattern; and Ens-1 transcripts are also detected in the hypoblast, an extraembryonic tissue expressing Gata4 and Ets2, but not Nanog. Accordingly, over expression of Gata4 in embryos induces an ectopic expression of Ens-1.


Our results show that Ens-1 LTR have co-opted conditions required for the emergence of extraembryonic tissues from pluripotent epiblasts cells. By providing pluripotent cells with intact binding sites for Gata, Nanog, or both, Ens-1 LTR may promote distinct transcriptional networks in embryonic stem cells subpopulations and prime the separation between embryonic and extraembryonic fates.