Limb development requires the coordinated growth of several tissues and structures including long bones, joints and tendons, but the underlying mechanisms are not wholly clear. Recently, we identified a small drug-like molecule - we named Kartogenin (KGN) - that greatly stimulates chondrogenesis in marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and enhances cartilage repair in mouse osteoarthritis (OA) models. To determine whether limb developmental processes are regulated by KGN, we tested its activity on committed preskeletal mesenchymal cells from mouse embryo limb buds and whole limb explants. KGN did stimulate cartilage nodule formation and more strikingly, boosted digit cartilaginous anlaga elongation, synovial joint formation and interzone compaction, tendon maturation as monitored by ScxGFP, and interdigit invagination. To identify mechanisms, we carried out gene expression analyses and found that several genes, including those encoding key signaling proteins, were up-regulated by KGN. Amongst highly up-regulated genes were those encoding hedgehog and TGFβ superfamily members, particularly TFGβ1. The former response was verified by increases in Gli1-LacZ activity and Gli1 mRNA expression. Exogenous TGFβ1 stimulated cartilage nodule formation to levels similar to KGN, and KGN and TGFβ1 both greatly enhanced expression of lubricin/Prg4 in articular superficial zone cells. KGN also strongly increased the cellular levels of phospho-Smads that mediate canonical TGFβ and BMP signaling. Thus, limb development is potently and harmoniously stimulated by KGN. The growth effects of KGN appear to result from its ability to boost several key signaling pathways and in particular TGFβ signaling, working in addition to and/or in concert with the filamin A/CBFβ/RUNX1 pathway we identified previously to orchestrate overall limb development. KGN may thus represent a very powerful tool not only for OA therapy, but also limb regeneration and tissue repair strategies.
Keywords: BMP and hedgehog signaling; Joint interzone; Kartogenin; Limb development; Lubricin; Skeletogenesis; Synovial joint formation; TGFB.
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