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J Cell Mol Med. 2012 Apr;16(4):740-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1582-4934.2011.01352.x.

Role of Slug transcription factor in human mesenchymal stem cells.

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Dipartimento di Biochimica e Biologia Molecolare, Sezione di Biologia Molecolare, Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy.


The pathways that control mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) differentiation are not well understood, and although some of the involved transcription factors (TFs) have been characterized, the role of others remains unclear. We used human MSCs from tibial plateau (TP) trabecular bone, iliac crest (IC) bone marrow and Wharton's jelly (WJ) umbilical cord demonstrating a variability in their mineral matrix deposition, and in the expression levels of TFs including Runx2, Sox9, Sox5, Sox6, STAT1 and Slug, all involved in the control of osteochondroprogenitors differentiation program. Because we reasoned that the basal expression level of some TFs with crucial role in the control of MSC fate may be correlated with osteogenic potential, we considered the possibility to affect the hMSCs behaviour by using gene silencing approach without exposing cells to induction media. In this study we found that Slug-silenced cells changed in morphology, decreased in their migration ability, increased Sox9 and Sox5 and decreased Sox6 and STAT1 expression. On the contrary, the effect of Slug depletion on Runx2 was influenced by cell type. Interestingly, we demonstrated a direct in vivo regulatory action of Slug by chromatin immunoprecipitation, showing a specific recruitment of this TF in the promoter of Runx2 and Sox9 genes. As a whole, our findings have important potential implication on bone tissue engineering applications, reinforcing the concept that manipulation of specific TF expression levels may elucidate MSC biology and the molecular mechanisms, which promote osteogenic differentiation.

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