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Tissue Eng Part A. 2009 Nov;15(11):3487-97. doi: 10.1089/ten.TEA.2009.0175.

The role of the extracellular signal-related kinase signaling pathway in osteogenic differentiation of human adipose-derived stem cells and in adipogenic transition initiated by dexamethasone.

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  • 1Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Shanghai 9th People's Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, People's Republic of China.


Human adipose-derived stem cells (hASCs) offer great promise for bone tissue engineering because of their osteogenic differentiation potential. At molecular levels, this study investigated the contribution of one of the main members of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK), to hASC osteogenic differentiation and the regulation of ERK for the balance between osteogenesis and adipogenesis in hASCs in vitro. As analyzed using western blot, ERK activation in osteo-induced hASCs was initiated at day 7, peaked at day 10, and declined from day 14 to basal levels. As detected using histochemical and biochemical methods, alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity in hASCs experienced a process similar to that of ERK activation. Inhibition of ERK activation by PD98059, a specific inhibitor of the ERK signaling pathway, blocked the osteogenic differentiation in a dose-dependent manner, as revealed by an ALP activity assay, extracellular calcium deposition detection, osteocalcin (OCN) secretion examination, and real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis for expression of osteogenesis-relative genes: core binding factor alpha 1, collagen type I, ALP, and OCN. Blockage of ERK phosphorylation in osteo-induced hASCs by PD98059 supplemented with dexamethasone (Dex) led to adipogenic differentiation, as confirmed by Nile Red staining to detect intracellular lipid droplets and real-time PCR analysis for expression of adipogenesis-relative genes: peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma 2 and fatty acid-binding protein. These findings indicated a potential mechanism for the function of ERK in hASC osteogenic differentiation, especially the regulation of ERK in association with Dex for the balance between osteogenesis and adipogenesis, pointing out the significance of ERK signaling pathway for ASCs as a promising cell source for bone tissue engineering.

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