Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) differentiation requires complex cell signalling network dynamics, although the key molecular events remain poorly understood. Here, we use phosphoproteomics to identify an FGF4-mediated phosphorylation switch centred upon the key Ephrin receptor EPHA2 in differentiating ESCs. We show that EPHA2 maintains pluripotency and restrains commitment by antagonising ERK1/2 signalling. Upon ESC differentiation, FGF4 utilises a bimodal strategy to disable EPHA2, which is accompanied by transcriptional induction of EFN ligands. Mechanistically, FGF4-ERK1/2-RSK signalling inhibits EPHA2 via Ser/Thr phosphorylation, whilst FGF4-ERK1/2 disrupts a core pluripotency transcriptional circuit required for Epha2 gene expression. This system also operates in mouse and human embryos, where EPHA receptors are enriched in pluripotent cells whilst surrounding lineage-specified trophectoderm expresses EFNA ligands. Our data provide insight into function and regulation of EPH-EFN signalling in ESCs, and suggest that segregated EPH-EFN expression coordinates cell fate with compartmentalisation during early embryonic development.
- Cell signalling
- Embryonic stem cells