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1.  A Subpopulation of Smooth Muscle Cells, Derived from Melanocyte-Competent Precursors, Prevents Patent Ductus Arteriosus 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e53183.
Background
Patent ductus arteriosus is a life-threatening condition frequent in premature newborns but also present in some term infants. Current mouse models of this malformation generally lead to perinatal death, not reproducing the full phenotypic spectrum in humans, in whom genetic inheritance appears complex. The ductus arteriosus (DA), a temporary fetal vessel that bypasses the lungs by shunting the aortic arch to the pulmonary artery, is constituted by smooth muscle cells of distinct origins (SMC1 and SMC2) and many fewer melanocytes. To understand novel mechanisms preventing DA closure at birth, we evaluated the importance of cell fate specification in SMC that form the DA during embryonic development. Upon specific Tyr::Cre-driven activation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling at the time of cell fate specification, melanocytes replaced the SMC2 population of the DA, suggesting that SMC2 and melanocytes have a common precursor. The number of SMC1 in the DA remained similar to that in controls, but insufficient to allow full DA closure at birth. Thus, there was no cellular compensation by SMC1 for the loss of SMC2. Mice in which only melanocytes were genetically ablated after specification from their potential common precursor with SMC2, demonstrated that differentiated melanocytes themselves do not affect DA closure. Loss of the SMC2 population, independent of the presence of melanocytes, is therefore a cause of patent ductus arteriosus and premature death in the first months of life. Our results indicate that patent ductus arteriosus can result from the insufficient differentiation, proliferation, or contractility of a specific smooth muscle subpopulation that shares a common neural crest precursor with cardiovascular melanocytes.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053183
PMCID: PMC3561373  PMID: 23382837
2.  Phosphorylation of BRN2 Modulates Its Interaction with the Pax3 Promoter To Control Melanocyte Migration and Proliferation 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2012;32(7):1237-1247.
MITF-M and PAX3 are proteins central to the establishment and transformation of the melanocyte lineage. They control various cellular mechanisms, including migration and proliferation. BRN2 is a POU domain transcription factor expressed in melanoma cell lines and is involved in proliferation and invasion, at least in part by regulating the expression of MITF-M and PAX3. The T361 and S362 residues of BRN2, both in the POU domain, are conserved throughout the POU protein family and are targets for phosphorylation, but their roles in vivo remain unknown. To examine the role of this phosphorylation, we generated mutant BRN2 in which these two residues were replaced with alanines (BRN2TS→BRN2AA). When expressed in melanocytes in vitro or in the melanocyte lineage in transgenic mice, BRN2TS induced proliferation and repressed migration, whereas BRN2AA repressed both proliferation and migration. BRN2TS and BRN2AA bound and repressed the MITF-M promoter, whereas PAX3 transcription was induced by BRN2TS but repressed by BRN2AA. Expression of the BRN2AA transgene in a Mitf heterozygous background and in a Pax3 mutant background enhanced the coat color phenotype. Our findings show that melanocyte migration and proliferation are controlled both through the regulation of PAX3 by nonphosphorylated BRN2 and through the regulation of MITF-M by the overall BRN2 level.
doi:10.1128/MCB.06257-11
PMCID: PMC3302439  PMID: 22290434
3.  Vitamin D Receptor Deficiency Enhances Wnt/β-Catenin Signaling and Tumor Burden in Colon Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23524.
Aberrant activation of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway is critical for the initiation and progression of most colon cancers. This activation provokes the accumulation of nuclear β-catenin and the induction of its target genes. Apcmin/+ mice are the most commonly used model for colon cancer. They harbor a mutated Apc allele and develop intestinal adenomas and carcinomas during the first months of life. This phenotype is caused by the mutation of the second Apc allele and the consequent accumulation of nuclear β-catenin in the affected cells. Here we describe that vitamin D receptor (VDR) is a crucial modulator of nuclear β-catenin levels in colon cancer in vivo. By appropriate breeding of Apcmin/+ mice and Vdr+/− mice we have generated animals expressing a mutated Apc allele and two, one, or none Vdr wild type alleles. Lack of Vdr increased the number of colonic Aberrant Crypt Foci (ACF) but not that of adenomas or carcinomas in either small intestine or colon. Importantly, colon ACF and tumors of Apcmin/+Vdr-/- mice had increased nuclear β-catenin and the tumors reached a larger size than those of Apcmin/+Vdr+/+. Both ACF and carcinomas in Apcmin/+Vdr-/- mice showed higher expression of β-catenin/TCF target genes. In line with this, VDR knock-down in cultured human colon cancer cells enhanced β-catenin nuclear content and target gene expression. Consistently, VDR depletion abrogated the capacity of 1,25(OH)2D3 to promote the relocation of β-catenin from the nucleus to the plasma membrane and to inhibit β-catenin/TCF target genes. In conclusion, VDR controls the level of nuclear β-catenin in colon cancer cells and can therefore attenuate the impact of oncogenic mutations that activate the Wnt/β-catenin pathway.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023524
PMCID: PMC3156234  PMID: 21858154
4.  Deletion of Pten in the mouse enteric nervous system induces ganglioneuromatosis and mimics intestinal pseudoobstruction  
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2009;119(12):3586-3596.
Intestinal ganglioneuromatosis is a benign proliferation of nerve ganglion cells, nerve fibers, and supporting cells of the enteric nervous system (ENS) that can result in abnormally large enteric neuronal cells (ENCs) in the myenteric plexus and chronic intestinal pseudoobstruction (CIPO). As phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted on chromosome 10 (PTEN) is a phosphatase that is critical for controlling cell growth, proliferation, and death, we investigated the role of PTEN in the ENS by generating mice with an embryonic, ENC-selective deletion within the Pten locus. Mutant mice died 2 to 3 weeks after birth, with clinical signs of CIPO and hyperplasia and hypertrophy of ENCs resulting from increased activity of the PI3K/PTEN-AKT-S6K signaling pathway. Further analysis revealed that PTEN was only expressed in developing mouse embryonic ENCs from E15.5 and that the rate of ENC proliferation decreased once PTEN was expressed. Specific deletion of the Pten gene in ENCs therefore induced hyperplasia and hypertrophy in the later stages of embryogenesis. This phenotype was reversed by administration of a pharmacological inhibitor of AKT. In some human ganglioneuromatosis forms of CIPO, PTEN expression was found to be abnormally low and S6 phosphorylation increased. Our study thus reveals that loss of PTEN disrupts development of the ENS and identifies the PI3K/PTEN-AKT-S6K signaling pathway as a potential therapeutic target for ganglioneuromatosis forms of CIPO.
doi:10.1172/JCI39929
PMCID: PMC2786803  PMID: 19884655
5.  Snail1 transcriptional repressor binds to its own promoter and controls its expression 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;34(7):2077-2084.
The product of Snail1 gene is a transcriptional repressor of E-cadherin expression and an inductor of the epithelial–mesenchymal transition in several epithelial tumour cell lines. Transcription of Snail1 is induced when epithelial cells are forced to acquire a mesenchymal phenotype. In this work we demonstrate that Snail1 protein limits its own expression: Snail1 binds to an E-box present in its promoter (at −146 with respect to the transcription start) and represses its activity. Therefore, mutation of the E-box increases Snail1 transcription in epithelial and mesenchymal cells. Evidence of binding of ectopic or endogenous Snail1 to its own promoter was obtained by chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) experiments. Studies performed expressing different forms of Snail1 under the control of its own promoter demonstrate that disruption of the regulatory loop increases the cellular levels of Snail protein. These results indicate that expression of Snail1 gene can be regulated by its product and evidence the existence of a fine-tuning feed-back mechanism of regulation of Snail1 transcription.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkl141
PMCID: PMC1440880  PMID: 16617148
6.  Phosphorylation Regulates the Subcellular Location and Activity of the Snail Transcriptional Repressor 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2003;23(14):5078-5089.
The Snail gene product is a transcriptional repressor of E-cadherin expression and an inducer of the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in several epithelial tumor cell lines. This report presents data indicating that Snail function is controlled by its intracellular location. The cytosolic distribution of Snail depended on export from the nucleus by a CRM1-dependent mechanism, and a nuclear export sequence (NES) was located in the regulatory domain of this protein. Export of Snail was controlled by phosphorylation of a Ser-rich sequence adjacent to this NES. Modification of this sequence released the restriction created by the zinc finger domain and allowed nuclear export of the protein. The phosphorylation and subcellular distribution of Snail are controlled by cell attachment to the extracellular matrix. Suspended cells presented higher levels of phosphorylated Snail and an augmented extranuclear localization with respect to cells attached to the plate. These findings show the existence in tumor cells of an effective and fine-tuning nontranscriptional mechanism of regulation of Snail activity dependent on the extracellular environment.
doi:10.1128/MCB.23.14.5078-5089.2003
PMCID: PMC162233  PMID: 12832491
7.  Vitamin D3 promotes the differentiation of colon carcinoma cells by the induction of E-cadherin and the inhibition of β-catenin signaling 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2001;154(2):369-388.
The β-catenin signaling pathway is deregulated in nearly all colon cancers. Nonhypercalcemic vitamin D3 (1α,25-dehydroxyvitamin D3) analogues are candidate drugs to treat this neoplasia. We show that these compounds promote the differentiation of human colon carcinoma SW480 cells expressing vitamin D receptors (VDRs) (SW480-ADH) but not that of a malignant subline (SW480-R) or metastasic derivative (SW620) cells lacking VDR. 1α,25(OH)2D3 induced the expression of E-cadherin and other adhesion proteins (occludin, Zonula occludens [ZO]-1, ZO-2, vinculin) and promoted the translocation of β-catenin, plakoglobin, and ZO-1 from the nucleus to the plasma membrane. Ligand-activated VDR competed with T cell transcription factor (TCF)-4 for β-catenin binding. Accordingly, 1α,25(OH)2D3 repressed β-catenin–TCF-4 transcriptional activity. Moreover, VDR activity was enhanced by ectopic β-catenin and reduced by TCF-4. Also, 1α,25(OH)2D3 inhibited expression of β-catenin–TCF-4-responsive genes, c-myc, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor δ, Tcf-1, and CD44, whereas it induced expression of ZO-1. Our results show that 1α,25(OH)2D3 induces E-cadherin and modulates β-catenin–TCF-4 target genes in a manner opposite to that of β-catenin, promoting the differentiation of colon carcinoma cells.
doi:10.1083/jcb.200102028
PMCID: PMC2150773  PMID: 11470825
vitamin D; vitamin D receptor; β-catenin; E-cadherin; colon cancer

Results 1-7 (7)