Cell proliferation and differentiation show a remarkable inverse relationship. Precursor cells continue division before acquiring a fully differentiated state, while terminal differentiation usually coincides with proliferation arrest and permanent exit from the division cycle. Mechanistic insight in the temporal coordination between cell cycle exit and differentiation has come from studies of cells in culture and genetic animal models. As initially described for skeletal muscle differentiation, temporal coordination involves mutual antagonism between cyclin-dependent kinases that promote cell cycle entry and transcription factors that induce tissue-specific gene expression. Recent insights highlight the contribution of chromatin-regulating complexes that act in conjunction with the transcription factors and determine their activity. In particular SWI/SNF chromatin remodelers contribute to dual regulation of cell cycle and tissue-specific gene expression during terminal differentiation. We review the concerted regulation of the cell cycle and cell type-specific transcription, and discuss common mutations in human cancer that emphasize the clinical importance of proliferation versus differentiation control.
Keywords: SWI/SNF; cell cycle; chromatin remodeling; differentiation; proliferation.