Trophoblast stem cell maintenance by fibroblast growth factor 4 requires MEKK4 activation of Jun N-terminal kinase


Trophoblast differentiation during placentation involves an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) with loss of E-cadherin and gain of trophoblast invasiveness. Mice harboring a point mutation that renders inactive the mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase MEKK4 exhibit dysregulated placental development with increased trophoblast invasion. Isolated MEKK4 kinase-inactive trophoblast stem (TS) cells cultured under undifferentiating, self-renewing conditions in the presence of fibroblast growth factor 4 (FGF4) display increased expression of Slug, Twist, and matrix metalloproteinase 2 (MMP2), loss of E-cadherin, and hyperinvasion of extracellular matrix, each a hallmark of EMT. MEKK4 kinase-inactive TS cells show a preferential differentiation to Tpbpα- and Gcm1-positive trophoblasts, which are indicative of spongiotrophoblast and syncytiotrophoblast differentiation, respectively. FGF4-stimulated Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and p38 activity is markedly reduced in MEKK4 kinase-inactive TS cells. Chemical inhibition of JNK in wild-type TS cells induced a similar EMT response as loss of MEKK4 kinase activity, including inhibition of E-cadherin expression and increased expression of Slug, MMP2, Tpbpα, and Gcm1. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analyses revealed changes in AP-1 composition with increased Fra-2 and decreased Fra-1 and JunB binding to the regulatory regions of Gcm1 and MMP2 genes in MEKK4 kinase-inactive TS cells. Our results define MEKK4 as a signaling hub for FGF4 activation of JNK that is required for maintenance of TS cells in an undifferentiated state. Copyright © 2009, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

Publication Title

Molecular and Cellular Biology