Dickkopf Homolog 3 Induces Stem Cell Differentiation into Smooth Muscle Lineage via ATF6 Signalling [Developmental Biology]

June 23rd, 2015 by Wang, X., Karamariti, E., Simpson, R., Wang, W., Xu, Q.

Smooth muscle cells (SMCs) are a key component of healthy and tissue engineered vessels and play a crucial role in vascular development and the pathogenic events of vascular remodelling i.e. restenosis. However, the cell source from which they can be isolated is limited. Embryonic stem (ES) cells that have the remarkable capability to differentiate into vascular SMCs in response to specific stimuli provide a useful model for studying SMC differentiation. Previous studies suggested that dickkopf homolog 3 (DKK3) has a role in human partially induced pluripotent stem cell to SMC differentiation. Here, we demonstrate that the expression of DKK3 is essential for the expression of SMC markers and myocardin at both the mRNA and protein levels during mouse ES cell differentiation into SMCs (ESC-SMC differentiation). Overexpression of DKK3 leads to further upregulation of the aforementioned markers. Further investigation indicates that DKK3 added as a cytokine activates activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6), leading to the increased binding of ATF6 on the myocardin promoter and increased its expression. In addition, inhibition of extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1/2 (ERK1/2) promotes the expression of ATF6 and leads to further increase of myocardin transcription. Our findings offer a novel mechanism by which DKK3 regulates ESC-SMC differentiation by activating ATF6 and promoting myocardin expression.