Msx2 Promotes Osteogenesis and Suppresses Adipogenic Differentiation of Multipotent Mesenchymal Progenitors

Su Li Cheng, Jian Su Shao, Nichole Charlton-Kachigian, Arleen P. Loewy, Dwight A. Towler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

302 Scopus citations


In the aorta, diabetes activates an osteogenic program that includes expression of bone morphogenetic protein- 2 (BMP2) and the osteoblast homeoprotein Msx2. To evaluate BMP2-Msx2 signaling in vascular calcification, we studied primary aortic myofibroblasts. These cells express vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) markers, respond to BMP2 by up-regulating Msx2, and undergo osteogenic differentiation with BMP2 treatment or transduction with a virus encoding Msx2. The osteoblast factor osterix (Osx) is up-regulated 10- fold by Msx2, but Runx2 mRNA is unchanged; the early osteoblast marker alkaline phosphatase increases 50-fold with mineralized nodule formation enhanced 30-fold. Adipocyte markers are concomitantly suppressed. To better understand Msx2 actions on osteogenesis versus adipogenesis, mechanistic studies were extended to C3H10T1/2 mesenchymal cells. Msx2 enhances osteogenic differentiation in synergy with BMP2. Osteogenic actions depend upon intrinsic Msx2 DNA binding; the gain-of-function variant Msx2(P148H) directs enhanced mineralization, whereas the binding-deficient variant Msx2(T147A) is inactive. Adipogenesis (lipid accumulation, Pparg expression) is inhibited by Msx2. By contrast, suppression of adipogenesis does not require Msx2 DNA binding; inhibition occurs in part via protein-protein interactions with C/EBPα that control Pparg transcription. Thus, Msx2 regulates osteogenic versus adipogenic differentiation of aortic myofibroblasts. Myofibroblasts capable of both fates can be diverted to the osteogenic lineage by BMP2-Msx2 signaling and contribute to vascular calcification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45969-45977
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number46
StatePublished - Nov 14 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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