TCDD alters essential transcriptional regulators of osteogenic differentiation in multipotent mesenchymal stem cells

Toxicol Sci. 2023 Jan 31;191(1):149-162. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfac120.


Differentiation of multipotent mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into bone-forming osteoblasts requires strict coordination of transcriptional pathways. Aryl hydrocarbon receptor ligands, such as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), have been shown to alter osteoblast differentiation in vitro and bone formation in multiple developmental in vivo models. The goal of the present study was to establish a global transcriptomic landscape during early, intermediate, and apical stages of osteogenic differentiation in vitro in response to TCDD exposure. Human bone-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hBMSCs) were cultured in growth media (GM), osteogenic differentiation media (ODM), or ODM containing 10 nM TCDD (ODM + TCDD), thus enabling a comparison of the transcriptomic profiles of undifferentiated, differentiated, and differentiated-TCDD-exposed hBMSCs, respectively. In this test system, exposure to TCDD attenuated the differentiation of hBMSCs into osteoblasts as evidenced by reduced alkaline phosphatase activity and mineralization. At various timepoints, we observed altered expression of genes that play a role in the Wnt, fibroblast growth factor, bone morphogenetic protein/transforming growth factor beta developmental pathways, as well as pathways related to extracellular matrix organization and deposition. Reconstruction of gene regulatory networks with the interactive dynamic regulatory event miner (iDREM) analysis revealed modulation of transcription factors (TFs) including POLR3G, NR4A1, RDBP, GTF2B, POU2F2, and ZEB1, which may putatively influence osteoblast differentiation and the requisite deposition and mineralization of bone extracellular matrix. We demonstrate that the combination of RNA-Seq data in conjunction with the iDREM regulatory model captures the transcriptional dynamics underlying MSC differentiation under different conditions in vitro. Model predictions are consistent with existing knowledge and provide a new tool to identify novel pathways and TFs that may facilitate a better understanding of the osteoblast differentiation process, perturbation by exogenous agents, and potential intervention strategies targeting those specific pathways.

Keywords: AhR; cell differentiation; mesenchymal stem cell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells* / metabolism
  • Osteoblasts
  • Osteogenesis / genetics
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins* / toxicity


  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors