Growth factors are crucial regulators of cell differentiation towards tissue and organ development. Insulin and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) have been used as the major factors for chondrogenesis in vitro, by activating the AKT and Smad signaling pathways. Previous reports demonstrated that AKT and Smad3 have a direct interaction that results in the inhibition of TGF-β-mediated cellular responses. However, the result of this interaction between AKT and Smad3 during the chondrogenesis of human bone marrow-derived stem/progenitor cells (hBMSCs) is unknown. In this study, we performed functional analyses by inducing hBMSCs into chondrogenesis with insulin, TGF-β3 or in combination, and found that TGF-β3, when applied concomitantly with insulin, significantly decreases an insulin-induced increase in mRNA levels of the master regulator of chondrogenesis, SOX9, as well as the regulators of the 2 major chondrocyte markers, ACAN and COL2A1. Similarly, the insulin/TGF-β3-treated group presented a significant decrease in the deposition of cartilage matrix as detected by safranin O staining of histological sections of hBMSC micromass cultures when compared to the group stimulated with insulin alone. Intracellular analysis revealed that insulin-induced activation of AKT suppressed Smad3 activation in a dose-dependent manner. Accordingly, insulin/TGF-β3 significantly decreased the TGF-β3-induced increase in mRNA levels of the direct downstream factor of TGF-β/Smad3, CCN2/CGTF, compared to the group stimulated with TGF-β3 alone. On the other hand, insulin/TGF-β3 stimulation did not suppress insulin-induced expression of the downstream targets TSC2 and DDIT4/REDD1. In summary, insulin and TGF-β3 have antagonistic effects when applied concomitantly, with a minimal number of factors. The application of an insulin/TGF-β3 combination without further supplementation should be used with caution in the chondrogenic differentiation of hBMSCs.
- Transforming growth factor-β
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