The dynamics of transcriptional activation by hepatic reprogramming factors
Specific combinations of two transcription factors (Hnf4a plus Foxa1, Foxa2, or Foxa3) can induce direct conversion of mouse fibroblasts into hepatocyte-like cells. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying hepatic reprogramming are largely unknown. Here, we show that the Foxa protein family members and Hnf4a sequentially and cooperatively bind to chromatin to activate liver-specific gene expression. Although all Foxa proteins bind to and open regions of closed chromatin as pioneer factors, Foxa3 has the unique potential of transferring from the distal to proximal regions of the transcription start site of target genes, binding RNA polymerase II, and co-traversing target genes. These distinctive characteristics of Foxa3 are essential for inducing the hepatic fate in fibroblasts. Functional coupling of transcription factors and RNA polymerase II during transcription may be a novel means whereby transcriptional activation can induce cell differentiation.