The neuronal repressor REST (RE1-silencing transcription factor; also called NRSF) is expressed at high levels in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells, but its role in these cells is unclear. Here we show that REST maintains self-renewal and pluripotency in mouse ES cells through suppression of the microRNA miR-21. We found that, as with known self-renewal markers, the level of REST expression is much higher in self-renewing mouse ES cells than in differentiating mouse ES (embryoid body, EB) cells. Heterozygous deletion of Rest (Rest(+/-)) and its short-interfering-RNA-mediated knockdown in mouse ES cells cause a loss of self-renewal-even when these cells are grown under self-renewal conditions-and lead to the expression of markers specific for multiple lineages. Conversely, exogenously added REST maintains self-renewal in mouse EB cells. Furthermore, Rest(+/-) mouse ES cells cultured under self-renewal conditions express substantially reduced levels of several self-renewal regulators, including Oct4 (also called Pou5f1), Nanog, Sox2 and c-Myc, and exogenously added REST in mouse EB cells maintains the self-renewal phenotypes and expression of these self-renewal regulators. We also show that in mouse ES cells, REST is bound to the gene chromatin of a set of miRNAs that potentially target self-renewal genes. Whereas mouse ES cells and mouse EB cells containing exogenously added REST express lower levels of these miRNAs, EB cells, Rest(+/-) ES cells and ES cells treated with short interfering RNA targeting Rest express higher levels of these miRNAs. At least one of these REST-regulated miRNAs, miR-21, specifically suppresses the self-renewal of mouse ES cells, corresponding to the decreased expression of Oct4, Nanog, Sox2 and c-Myc. Thus, REST is a newly discovered element of the interconnected regulatory network that maintains the self-renewal and pluripotency of mouse ES cells.