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Cell Rep. 2012 Oct 25;2(4):976-90. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2012.08.038. Epub 2012 Oct 11.

Consecutive positive feedback loops create a bistable switch that controls preadipocyte-to-adipocyte conversion.

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  • 1Department of Chemical and Systems Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Adipogenesis, or the conversion of proliferating preadipocytes into nondividing adipocytes, is an important part of the vertebrate weight-maintenance program. It is not yet understood how and when an irreversible transition occurs into a distinct state capable of accumulating lipid. Here, we use single-cell fluorescence imaging to show that an all-or-none switch is induced before lipid accumulation occurs. Conversion begins by glucocorticoid and cAMP signals raising C/EBPβ levels above a critical threshold, triggering three consecutive positive feedback loops: from PPARγ to C/EBPα, then to C/EBPβ, and last to the insulin receptor. Experiments and modeling show that these feedbacks create a robust, irreversible transition to a terminally differentiated state by rejecting short- and low-amplitude stimuli. After the differentiation switch is triggered, insulin controls fat accumulation in a graded fashion. Altogether, our study introduces a regulatory motif that locks cells in a differentiated state by engaging a sequence of positive feedback loops.

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