The foundations of mammalian development lie in a cluster of embryonic epiblast stem cells. In response to extracellular matrix signalling, these cells undergo epithelialization and create an apical surface in contact with a cavity1,2, a fundamental event for all subsequent development. Concomitantly, epiblast cells transit through distinct pluripotent states3,4, before lineage commitment at gastrulation. These pluripotent states have been characterized at the molecular level5, but their biological importance remains unclear. Here we show that exit from an unrestricted naive pluripotent state is required for epiblast epithelialization and generation of the pro-amniotic cavity in mouse embryos. Embryonic stem cells locked in the naive state are able to initiate polarization but fail to undergo lumenogenesis. Mechanistically, exit from naive pluripotency activates an Oct4-governed transcriptional program that results in expression of glycosylated sialomucin proteins and the vesicle tethering and fusion events of lumenogenesis. Similarly, exit of epiblasts from naive pluripotency in cultured human post-implantation embryos triggers amniotic cavity formation and developmental progression. Our results add tissue-level architecture as a new criterion for the characterization of different pluripotent states, and show the relevance of transitions between these states during development of the mammalian embryo.


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We thank K. McNagny, J. Hanna and R. Jaenisch for reagents and discussions; F. Martin-Belmonte, D. Glover, C. Lynch, M. Serrano, A. Hupalowska, F. Antonica and M. Petruzzelli for feedback; J. N. Skepper for help with electron microscopy; W. Mansfield for help with embryo transfer. This work was supported by Wellcome Trust (098287/Z/12/Z) and ERC (669198) grants to M.Z.-G. Work in the laboratory of T.V. was supported by Wellcome Trust and KU Leuven (SymBioSys PFV/10/016). Work in the laboratory of J.C.M. was supported by EMBL and Cancer Research UK. M.N.S. was supported by Ramon Areces and EMBO postdoctoral fellowships; A.S. by a Wellcome Trust strategic award (105031/D/14/Z) and G.R. by a Newton fellowship.