Uncovering the complexity of mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) differentiation requires novel methods to capture the dynamics of the process in a quantitative and high-throughput manner. To this end, we developed a lentiviral array (LVA) of reporters to capture the dynamics of gene and pathway activity during MSC differentiation into adipogenic, chondrogenic, and osteogenic lineages. Our results identified signature promoters and pathways with unique activation profile for each MSC lineage. In combination with chemical inhibitors, lineage-specific reporters predicted the effects of signaling pathway perturbations on MSC differentiation. Interestingly, some pathways were critical for differentiation into all lineages, while others had differential effects on each lineage. Our study suggests that when combined with large chemical or siRNA libraries, the reporter LVA can be used to uncover novel genes and signaling pathways affecting complex biological processes such as stem cell differentiation or reprogramming.
We demonstrate that c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) responds to substrate stiffness and regulates adherens junction (AJ) formation in epithelial cells in 2D cultures and in 3D tissues in vitro and in vivo. Rigid substrates led to JNK activation and AJ disassembly, whereas soft matrices suppressed JNK activity leading to AJ formation. Expression of constitutively active JNK (MKK7-JNK1) induced AJ dissolution even on soft substrates, whereas JNK knockdown (using shJNK) induced AJ formation even on hard substrates. In human epidermis, basal cells expressed phosphorylated JNK but lacked AJ, whereas suprabasal keratinocytes contained strong AJ but lacked phosphorylated JNK. AJ formation was significantly impaired even in the upper suprabasal layers of bioengineered epidermis when prepared with stiffer scaffold or keratinocytes expressing MKK7-JNK1. By contrast, shJNK1 or shJNK2 epidermis exhibited strong AJ even in the basal layer. The results with bioengineered epidermis were in full agreement with the epidermis of jnk1(-/-) or jnk2(-/-) mice. In conclusion, we propose that JNK mediates the effects of substrate stiffness on AJ formation in 2D and 3D contexts in vitro as well as in vivo.
Although cellular signaling pathways that affect lentivirus infection have been investigated, the role of cell-cell interactions in lentiviral gene delivery remains elusive. In the course of our studies we observed that lentiviral gene transfer was a strong function of the position of epithelial cells within colonies. While peripheral cells were transduced efficiently, cells in the center of colonies were resistant to gene transfer. In addition, gene delivery was enhanced significantly under culture conditions that disrupted adherens junctions (AJ) but decreased upon AJ formation. In agreement, gene knockdown and gain-of-function approaches showed that ?-catenin, a key component of the AJ complex prevented lentivirus gene transfer. Using a doxycycline regulatable system we showed that expression of dominant negative E-cadherin enhanced gene transfer in a dose-dependent manner. In addition, dissolution of AJ by doxycycline increased entry of lentiviral particles into the cell cytoplasm in a dose-dependent manner. Taken together our results demonstrate that AJ formation renders cells non-permissive to lentiviral gene transfer and may facilitate development of simple means to enhance gene delivery or combat virus infection.
We recently demonstrated that fibrin hydrogels can be used as vehicles for efficient lentivirus gene delivery. Gene transfer in fibrin gels was strongly dependent on matrix degradation by target cells but a fraction of lentiviral particles diffused out of the gels over time compromising spatial control of gene transfer. To overcome this challenge, we engineered lentiviral particles that bind covalently to fibrin during polymerization. To this end, we fused into the viral envelope glycoprotein (VSV-G) peptide domains that are recognized by factor XIII and protease cleavage sites that are recognized by plasmin. Lentivirus pseudotyped with the modified envelopes bound to fibrinogen in a factor XIII dose dependent manner and was released upon plasmin treatment. The peptide/VSV-G fusion envelope variants did not compromise the transduction efficiency of the resulting virus except when lacking any flexible linkers separating the peptide from the VSV-G envelope. Diffusion of virus from the gels decreased dramatically, especially at high concentrations of FXIII, even for fibrin gels with low fibrinogen concentration that were loaded with high titer virus. Lentivirus arrays prepared with fibrin-conjugated lentivirus yielded highly efficient gene transfer that was confined to virus-containing fibrin spots. As a result, signal/noise ratio increased and cross-contamination between neighboring sites was minimal. Finally, in addition to lentivirus microarrays this strategy may be used to achieve spatially-controlled gene transfer for therapeutic applications.
Although a lot of progress has been made in development of lentiviral vectors for gene therapy, the interactions of these vectors with cellular factors have not been explored adequately. Here we show that lentivirus infection phosphorylates JNK and that blocking the kinase activity of JNK decreases gene transfer in a dose-dependent manner, regardless of the viral envelope glycoprotein. Knockdown by small interfering RNA (siRNA) revealed that JNK1 but not JNK2 was required for productive gene transfer. The effect of JNK on gene transfer was not due to changes in the cell cycle, as JNK knockdown did not affect the cell cycle profile of target cells and even increased cell proliferation. In addition, confluent cell monolayers also exhibited JNK phosphorylation upon lentivirus infection and a dose-dependent decrease in gene transfer efficiency upon JNK inhibition. On the other hand, JNK activation was necessary for lentivirus internalization into the cell cytoplasm, while inhibition of JNK activity decreased virus entry without affecting binding to the cell surface. These experiments suggest that JNK is required for lentivirus entry into target cells and may have implications for gene transfer or for development of antiviral agents.
We recently reported that c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) is associated with adherens junctions and phosphorylates ?-catenin at serine 33/37 and threonine 41. Here, we report that inhibition of JNK led to formation of adherens junctions, which was accompanied by dissociation of ?-catenin from the ?-catenin/E-cadherin complex and increased association of ?-catenin with the cytoskeleton. Conversely, activation of JNK increased binding of ?-catenin to ?-catenin, which was blocked by the JNK inhibitor SP600125 or JNK siRNA. In addition, inhibition of JNK failed to lead to adherens junction formation in cells where ?-catenin was absent or knocked down. Conversely, introduction of ?-catenin restored the responsiveness of cells to JNK inhibition and led to cell-cell adhesion. Experiments with domain deletion mutants showed that binding of ?-catenin to ?-catenin was required for transport of adherens junction complexes to the cell surface, while binding to actin was required for translocation to the cell-cell contact sites. Collectively, our results suggest that JNK affects the association of ?-catenin with the adherens junction complex and regulates adherens junctions.
We employed fibrin hydrogel as a bioactive matrix for lentivirus mediated gene transfer. Fibrin-mediated gene transfer was highly efficient and exhibited strong dependence on fibrinogen concentration. Efficient gene transfer was achieved with fibrinogen concentration between 3.75 and 7.5mg/ml. Lower fibrinogen concentrations resulted in diffusion of virus out of the gel while higher concentrations led to ineffective fibrin degradation by target cells. Addition of fibrinolytic inhibitors decreased gene transfer in a dose-dependent manner suggesting that fibrin degradation by target cells may be necessary for successful gene delivery. Under these conditions transduction may be limited only to cells interacting with the matrix thereby providing a method for spatially-localized gene delivery. Indeed, when lentivirus-containing fibrin microgels were spotted in an array format gene transfer was confined to virus-containing fibrin spots with minimal cross-contamination between neighboring sites. Collectively, our data suggest that fibrin may provide an effective matrix for spatially-localized gene delivery with potential applications in high-throughput lentiviral microarrays and in regenerative medicine.
We investigated fibrin-mediated gene transfer by embedding pDNA within the hydrogel during polymerization and using two modes of gene transfection with cells placed either on the surface (2D transfection) or within the hydrogel (3D transfection). Using this model, we found that cell transfection depended strongly on the local cell-pDNA microenvironment as defined by the 2D vs. 3D context, target cell type and density, as well as fibrinogen and pDNA concentrations. When cells were embedded within the fibrin matrix lipofectamine-induced cell death decreased significantly, especially at low target cell density. Addition of fibrinolytic inhibitors decreased gene transfer in a dose-dependent manner, suggesting that fibrin degradation may be necessary for efficient gene transfer. We also provided proof-of-concept that fibrin-mediated gene transfer can be used for spatially localized gene delivery, which is required in cell-transfection microarrays. When lipoplex-containing hydrogels were spotted in an array format gene transfer was strictly confined to pDNA-containing fibrin spots with no cross-contamination between neighboring sites. Collectively, our data suggest that fibrin may be used as a biomaterial to deliver genes in an efficient, cell-controlled and spatially localized manner for potential applications in vitro or in vivo.
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