Coronary vessel development depends on a subpopulation of epicardial cells that undergo epithelial to mesenchymal transformation (EMT) and invade the subepicardial space and myocardium. These cells form the smooth muscle of the vessels and fibroblasts, but the mechanisms that regulate these processes are poorly understood. Mice lacking the Type III Transforming Growth Factor β Receptor (TGFβR3) die by E14.5 due to failed coronary vessel development accompanied by reduced epicardial cell invasion. BMP2 signals via TGFβR3 emphasizing the importance of determining the relative contributions of the canonical BMP signaling pathway and TGFβR3-dependent signaling to BMP2 responsiveness. Here we examined the role of TGFβR3 in BMP2 signaling in epicardial cells. Whereas TGFβ induced loss of epithelial character and smooth muscle differentiation, BMP2 induced an ALK3-dependent loss of epithelial character and modestly inhibited TGFβ-stimulated differentiation. Tgfbr3(-/-) cells respond to BMP2 indicating that TGFβR3 is not required. However, Tgfbr3(-/-) cells show decreased invasion in response to BMP2 and overexpression of TGFβR3 in Tgfbr3(-/-) cells rescued invasion. Invasion was dependent on ALK5, ALK2, ALK3, and Smad4. Expression of TGFβR3 lacking the 3 C-terminal amino acids required to interact with the scaffolding protein GIPC (GAIP-interacting protein, C terminus) did not rescue. Knockdown of GIPC in Tgfbr3(+/+) or Tgfbr3(-/-) cells rescued with TGFβR3 decreased BMP2-stimulated invasion confirming a requirement for TGFβR3/GIPC interaction. Our results reveal the relative roles of TGFβR3-dependent and TGFβR3-independent signaling in the actions of BMP2 on epicardial cell behavior and demonstrate the critical role of TGFβR3 in mediating BMP2-stimulated invasion.
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