Cholesterol-derived glucocorticoids control early fate specification in embryonic stem cells

Joaquim Cabral-Teixeira, Almudena Martinez-Fernandez, Wenqing Cai, Andre Terzic, Mark Mercola, Erik Willems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Aside from its role in cell membrane integrity, cholesterol is a key component in steroid hormone production. The vital functions of steroid hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, glucocorticoids (Gcrts) and mineralocorticoids (Mnrts) in perinatal and adult life are well understood; however, their role during early embryonic development remains largely unexplored. Here we show that siRNA-mediated perturbation of steroid hormone production during mesoderm formation has important consequences on cardiac differentiation in mouse embryonic stem cells (mESC). Both Gcrts and Mnrts are capable of driving cardiac differentiation in mESC. Interestingly, the Gcrt receptor is widely expressed during gastrulation in the mouse, and is exclusively localized in the nuclei-and thus active-in visceral endoderm cells, suggesting that it functions much earlier than previously anticipated. We therefore studied Gcrt signaling in mESC as a model of the gastrulating embryo, and found that Gcrt signaling regulates expression of the transcription factor Hnf4a and the secreted Nodal and BMP inhibitor Cer1 in the early visceral endoderm. RNAi-mediated knockdown of Gcrt function blocked cardiomyocyte differentiation, with limited effects on other cardiovascular cell types including vascular endothelial cells and smooth muscle. Furthermore, the cardiogenic effect of Gcrts required Hnf4a and paracrine Cer1. These results establish a novel function for cholesterol-derived steroid hormones and identify Gcrt signaling in visceral endoderm cells as a regulator of Cer1 and cardiac fate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-95
Number of pages8
JournalStem Cell Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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