On Mammalian Totipotency: What Is the Molecular Underpinning for the Totipotency of Zygote?

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The mammalian zygote is described as a totipotent cell in the literature, but this characterization is elusive ignoring the molecular underpinnings. Totipotency can connote genetic totipotency, epigenetic totipotency, or the reprogramming capacity of a cell to epigenetic totipotency. Here, the implications of these concepts are discussed in the context of the properties of the zygote. Although genetically totipotent as any diploid somatic cell is, a zygote seems not totipotent transcriptionally, epigenetically, or functionally. Yet, a zygote may retain most of the key factors from its parental oocyte to reprogram an implanted differentiated genome or the zygote genome toward totipotency. This totipotent reprogramming process may extend to blastomeres in the two-cell-stage embryo. Thus, a revised alternative model of mammalian cellular totipotency is proposed, in which an epigenetically totipotent cell exists after the major embryonic genome activation and before the separation of the first two embryonic lineages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)897-906
Number of pages10
JournalStem Cells and Development
Issue number14
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2019


  • blastomere
  • embryogenesis
  • embryonic stem cells
  • epigenetic totipotency
  • reprogramming
  • totipotency
  • zygote


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