Connexin 43 Modulates Osteogenic Differentiation of Bone Marrow Stromal Cells Through GSK-3beta/Beta-Catenin Signaling Pathways

Fei-Xiang Lin, Gui-Zhou Zheng, Bo Chang, Rong-Chun Chen, Qi-Hao Zhang, Peng Xie, Da Xie, Guo-Yong Yu, Qin-Xiao Hu, De-Zhong Liu, Shi-Xin Du, Xue-Dong Li
Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry 2018, 47 (1): 161-175

BACKGROUND/AIMS: Bone marrow stromal cells (BMSCs) are multipotent precursors that give rise to osteoblasts, and contribute directly to bone formation. Connexin 43 (Cx43) is the most ubiquitous gap junction protein expressed in bone cell types, and plays crucial roles in regulating intercellular signal transmission for bone development, differentiation and pathology. However, the precise role and mechanism of Cx43 in BMSCs are less known. Here, we investigate the function of Cx43 in osteogenic differentiation of BMSCs in vitro.

METHODS: BMSCs were isolated by whole bone marrow adherent culture. Knock down of Cx43 was performed by using lentiviral transduction of Cx43 shRNA. BMSCs were induced to differentiate by culturing in a-MEM, 10% FBS, 50 µM ascorbic acid, 10 mM beta-glycerophosphate, and 100 nM dexamethasone. Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity and alizarin red S staining were used to evaluate osteogenic differentiation in calcium nodules. Target mRNAs and proteins were analyzed by using real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) and western blotting.

RESULTS: Cx43 expression markedly increased during osteogenic differentiation. Osteogenic differentiation was suppressed following lentiviral-mediated knockdown of Cx43 expression, as judged by decreased levels of Runt-related transcription factor 2 (Runx2), bone sialoprotein (BSP), osteocalcin (Bglap), Osterix (Osx), alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity and the number of calcium nodules in response to osteogenic differentiation stimuli. Knock down of Cx43 reduced the level of phosphorylation of GSK-3beta at Ser9 (p-GSK-3beta), resulting in decreased beta-catenin expression and activation. Furthermore, treatment of Cx43-knockdown cells with lithium chloride (LiCl), a GSK-3beta inhibitor, reduced osteogenic differentiation and decreased GSK-3beta levels, as well as partially rescued levels of both total and activated beta-catenin.

CONCLUSION: These findings indicate that Cx43 positively modulates osteogenic differentiation of BMSCs by up-regulating GSK-3beta/beta-catenin signaling pathways, suggesting a potential role for Cx43 in determining bone mass and bone mineral density by modulating osteogenesis.

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