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Received April 29, 2014; Revision received July 7, 2014
SOX2 is one of the key transcription factors involved in maintenance of neural progenitor identity. However, its function during the process of neural differentiation, including phases of lineage-specification and terminal differentiation, is still poorly understood. Considering growing evidence indicating that SOX2 expression level must be tightly controlled for proper neural development, the aim of this research was to analyze the effects of constitutive SOX2 overexpression on outcome of retinoic acid-induced neural differentiation of pluripotent NT2/D1 cells. We demonstrated that in spite of constitutive SOX2 overexpression, NT2/D1 cells were able to reach final phases of neural differentiation yielding both neuronal and glial cells. However, SOX2 overexpression reduced the number of mature MAP2-positive neurons while no difference in the number of GFAP-positive astrocytes was detected. In-depth analysis at single-cell level showed that SOX2 downregulation was in correlation with both neuronal and glial phenotype acquisitions. Interestingly, while in mature neurons SOX2 was completely downregulated, astrocytes with low level of SOX2 expression were detected. Nevertheless, cells with high level of SOX2 expression were incapable of entering in either of two differentiation pathways, neurogenesis or gliogenesis. Accordingly, our results indicate that fine balance between undifferentiated state and neural differentiation depends on SOX2 expression level. Unlike neurons, astrocytes could maintain low level of SOX2 expression after they acquired glial fate. Further studies are needed to determine whether differences in the level of SOX2 expression in GFAP-positive astrocytes are in correlation with their self-renewal capacity, differentiation status, and/or their phenotypic characteristics.
KEY WORDS: SOX2 overexpression, NT2/D1, neurogenesis, gliogenesis, neural differentiation