RESEARCH SUPPORT, NON-U.S. GOV'T
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Epigenetic modifications of the Zfp/ZNF423 gene control murine adipogenic commitment and are dysregulated in human hypertrophic obesity.

Diabetologia 2018 Februrary
AIMS/HYPOTHESIS: Subcutaneous adipocyte hypertrophy is associated with insulin resistance and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and predicts its future development independent of obesity. In humans, subcutaneous adipose tissue hypertrophy is a consequence of impaired adipocyte precursor cell recruitment into the adipogenic pathway rather than a lack of precursor cells. The zinc finger transcription factor known as zinc finger protein (ZFP) 423 has been identified as a major determinant of pre-adipocyte commitment and maintained white adipose cell function. Although its levels do not change during adipogenesis, ectopic expression of Zfp423 in non-adipogenic murine cells is sufficient to activate expression of the gene encoding peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (Pparγ; also known as Pparg) and increase the adipogenic potential of these cells. We investigated whether the Zfp423 gene is under epigenetic regulation and whether this plays a role in the restricted adipogenesis associated with hypertrophic obesity.

METHODS: Murine 3T3-L1 and NIH-3T3 cells were used as fibroblasts committed and uncommitted to the adipocyte lineage, respectively. Human pre-adipocytes were isolated from the stromal vascular fraction of subcutaneous adipose tissue of 20 lean non-diabetic individuals with a wide adipose cell size range. mRNA levels were measured by quantitative real-time PCR, while methylation levels were analysed by bisulphite sequencing. Chromatin structure was analysed by micrococcal nuclease protection assay, and DNA-methyltransferases were chemically inhibited by 5-azacytidine. Adipocyte differentiation rate was evaluated by Oil Red O staining.

RESULTS: Comparison of uncommitted (NIH-3T3) and committed (3T3-L1) adipose precursor cells revealed that Zfp423 expression increased (p < 0.01) in parallel with the ability of the cells to differentiate into mature adipocytes owing to both decreased promoter DNA methylation (p < 0.001) and nucleosome occupancy (nucleosome [NUC] 1 p < 0.01; NUC2 p < 0.001) in the 3T3-L1 compared with NIH-3T3 cells. Interestingly, non-adipogenic epigenetic profiles can be reverted in NIH-3T3 cells as 5-azacytidine treatment increased Zfp423 mRNA levels (p < 0.01), reduced DNA methylation at a specific CpG site (p < 0.01), decreased nucleosome occupancy (NUC1, NUC2: p < 0.001) and induced adipocyte differentiation (p < 0.05). These epigenetic modifications can also be initiated in response to changes in the pre-adipose cell microenvironment, in which bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP4) plays a key role. We finally showed that, in human adipocyte precursor cells, impaired epigenetic regulation of zinc nuclear factor (ZNF)423 (the human orthologue of murine Zfp423) was associated with inappropriate subcutaneous adipose cell hypertrophy. As in NIH-3T3 cells, the normal ZNF423 epigenetic profile was rescued by 5-azacytidine exposure.

CONCLUSIONS/INTERPRETATION: Our results show that epigenetic events regulate the ability of precursor cells to commit and differentiate into mature adipocytes by modulating ZNF423, and indicate that dysregulation of these mechanisms accompanies subcutaneous adipose tissue hypertrophy in humans.

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