The generation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) by the forced expression of defined transcription factors in somatic cells holds great promise for the future of regenerative medicine. However, the initial reprogramming mechanism is still poorly understood. Here we show that Zscan4, expressed transiently in 2-cell embryos and embryonic stem cells (ESCs), efficiently produces iPSCs from mouse embryo fibroblasts when coexpressed with Klf4, Oct4, and Sox2. Interestingly, the forced expression of Zscan4 is required only for the first few days of iPSC formation. Microarray analysis revealed transient and early induction of preimplantation-specific genes in a Zscan4-dependent manner. Our work indicates that Zscan4 is a previously unidentified potent natural factor that facilitates the reprogramming process and reactivates early embryonic genes.
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