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PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e41794. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041794. Epub 2012 Jul 27.

Elevated IKKα accelerates the differentiation of human neuronal progenitor cells and induces MeCP2-dependent BDNF expression.

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  • 1Biology Division 216-76, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, United States of America.


The IκB kinase α (IKKα) is implicated in the differentiation of epithelial and immune cells. We examined whether IKKα also plays a role in the differentiation and maturation of embryonic human neuronal progenitor cells (NPCs). We find that expression of an extra copy of IKKα (IKKα+) blocks self-renewal and accelerates the differentiation of NPCs. This coincides with reduced expression of the Repressor Element Silencing Transcription Factor/Neuron-Restrictive Silencing Factor (REST/NRSF), which is a prominent inhibitor of neurogenesis, and subsequent induction of the pro-differentiation non-coding RNA, miR-124a. However, the effects of IKKα on REST/NRSF and miR-124a expression are likely to be indirect. IKKα+ neurons display extensive neurite outgrowth and accumulate protein markers of neuronal maturation such as SCG10/stathmin-2, postsynaptic density 95 (PSD95), syntaxin, and methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2). Interestingly, IKKα associates with MeCP2 in the nuclei of human neurons and can phosphorylate MeCP2 in vitro. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, we find that IKKα is recruited to the exon-IV brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) promoter, which is a well-characterized target of MeCP2 activity. Moreover, IKKα induces the transcription of BDNF and knockdown expression of MeCP2 interferes with this event. These studies highlight a role for IKKα in accelerating the differentiation of human NPCs and identify IKKα as a potential regulator of MeCP2 function and BDNF expression.

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