Signaling pathways that control RhoA activity maintain the embryonic epicardial progenitor state [Cell Biology]

March 2nd, 2015 by Artamonov, M. V., Jin, L., Franke, A. S., Momotani, K., Ho, R., Dong, X. R., Majesky, M. W., Somlyo, A. V.

This study identifies signaling pathways that play key roles in the formation and maintenance of epicardial cells, a source of progenitors for coronary smooth muscle cells (SMCs). Following epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), mesenchymal cells invade the myocardium to form coronary SMCs. RhoA/Rho kinase activity is required for EMT and for differentiation into coronary SMCs while cAMP activity is known to inhibit EMT in epithelial cells by an unknown mechanism. We use outgrowth of epicardial cells from E9.5 isolated mouse proepicardium explants, from wild type and Epac1 null E12.5 mouse heart explants, adult rat epicardial cells and immortalized mouse embryonic epicardial cells as model systems to identify signaling pathways that regulate RhoA activity to maintain the epicardial progenitor state. We demonstrate that RhoA activity is suppressed in the epicardial progenitor state, that the cAMP dependent Rap1 GTP exchange factor (GEF), Epac, known to down regulate RhoA activity through activation of Rap1 GTPase activity increased, that Rap1 activity increased, that expression of the RhoA antagonistic Rnd proteins known to activate p190RhoGAP increased and associated with p190RhoGAP.. Finally, EMT is associated with increased p63RhoGEF and RhoGEF-H1 protein expression, increased GEF-H1 activity, with a trend in increased p63RhoGEF activity. EMT is suppressed by partial silencing of p63RhoGEF and GEF-H1. In conclusion, we have identified new signaling molecules that act together to control RhoA activity and play critical roles in the maintenance of coronary smooth muscle progenitor cells in the embryonic epicardium. We suggest that their eventual manipulation could promote revascularization following myocardial injury.