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Development. 1999 Jul;126(13):3027-33.

Embryonic mesenchymal cells share the potential for smooth muscle differentiation: myogenesis is controlled by the cell's shape.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Department of Pharmacology, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI 48201, USA.


Undifferentiated embryonic mesenchymal cells are round/cuboidal in shape. During development, visceral myogenesis is shortly preceded by mesenchymal cell elongation. To determine the role of the cell's shape on smooth muscle development, undifferentiated embryonic mesenchymal cells from intestine (abundant visceral muscle), lung (some visceral muscle) or kidney (no visceral muscle) were plated under conditions that maintained cell rounding or promoted elongation. Regardless of their fate in vivo, all the cells differentiated into smooth muscle upon elongation as indicated by the expression of smooth muscle-specific proteins and the development of membrane potentials of -60 mV and voltage-dependent Ca2+ currents, characteristic of excitable cells. Smooth muscle differentiation occurred within 24 hours and was independent of cell proliferation. Regardless of their fate in vivo, all the round cells remained negative for smooth muscle markers, had membrane potentials of -30 mV and showed no voltage-activated current. These cells, however, differentiated into smooth muscle upon elongation. The role of the cell's shape in controlling smooth muscle differentiation was not overcome by treatment with retinoic acid, TGF-beta1, PDGF BB or epithelial-conditioned medium (all modulators of smooth muscle differentiation). These studies suggest that the mesenchymal cell shape plays a main role in visceral myogenesis.

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