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LIF is a member of the IL-6 cytokine family. It has been identified as a key regulator in the maintenance of stem cell pluripotency. LIF binds to a receptor complex that activates gp130/STAT3-dependent signaling, leading to increased transcription of the stem cell state regulators while simultaneously inhibiting differentiation. See
Burdon et al,. Trends in Cell Biology, 2002. 12(9): p. 432-8 and Chambers., Development, 2009. 136(14): p. 2311-22 for more details into this mechanism. There’s also plenty of good reviews on the LIF’s role in maintaining stem cell pluripotency. What is even more interesting is the finding of the true naïve phenotype of human stem cells that appear to be LIF-dependent. This is in stark contrast to the bFGF-dependent (but still pluripotent) stem cells. See Buecker., Cell Stem Cell, 2010. 7(5): p. 559-64 for more details. In addition to being a key regulator of pluripotency in mouse embryonic and human naïve stem cells, LIF has been shown to induce stem cell proliferation in various multipotent stem cell systems such as human neural stem cells.