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Stem cell conversion to the cardiac lineage requires nucleotide signalling from apoptosing cells


Fort LLoic , Gama VVivian , Macara IGIan G . Nature cell biology. 2022 4 12; 24(4). 434-447


Pluripotent stem cells can be driven by manipulation of Wnt signalling through a series of states similar to those that occur during early embryonic development, transitioning from an epithelial phenotype into the cardiogenic-mesoderm lineage and ultimately into functional cardiomyocytes. Strikingly, we observed that initiation of differentiation in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and embryonic stem cells triggers widespread apoptosis, followed by a synchronous epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Apoptosis is caused by the absence of bFGF in the differentiation medium. EMT requires induction of the transcription factors SNAI1 and SNAI2 downstream of MESP1 expression, and double knockout of SNAI1 and SNAI2 or loss of MESP1 in iPSCs blocks EMT and prevents cardiac differentiation. Remarkably, blockade of early apoptosis, either chemically or by ablation of pro-apoptotic genes, also completely prevents EMT, suppressing even the earliest events in mesoderm conversion, including T/BRA, TBX6 and MESP1 induction. Conditioned medium from WNT-activated wild-type iPSCs overcomes the block to EMT by cells incapable of apoptosis, suggesting involvement of soluble factors from apoptotic cells in mesoderm conversion. Knockout of the PANX1 channel blocked EMT, whereas treatment with a purinergic P2-receptor inhibitor or addition of apyrase demonstrated a requirement for nucleotide triphosphate signalling. ATP and/or UTP was sufficient to induce a partial EMT in apoptosis-incapable cells treated with WNT activator. Notably, knockout of the ATP/UTP-specific P2Y2 receptor blocked EMT and mesoderm induction. We conclude that in addition to acting as chemo-attractants for clearance of apoptotic cells, nucleotides can function as essential paracrine signals that, with WNT signalling, create a logical AND gate for mesoderm specification.