Phenotype discovery by gene expression profiling: Mapping of biological processes linked to BMP-2-mediated osteoblast differentiation

Eva Balint, David Lapointe, Hicham Drissi, Caroline Van Der Meijden, Daniel W. Young, Andre J. Van Wijnen, Janet L. Stein, Gary S. Stein, Jane B. Lian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Scopus citations


Understanding physiological control of osteoblast differentiation necessitates characterization of the regulatory signals that initiate the events directing a cell to lineage commitment and establishing competency for bone formation. The bone morphogenetic protein, BMP-2, a member of the TGFβ superfamily, induces osteoblast differentiation and functions through the Smad signal transduction pathway during in vivo bone formation. However, the molecular targets of BMP-mediated gene transcription during the process of osteoblast differentiation have not been comprehensively identified. In the present study, BMP-2 responsive factors involved in the early stages of commitment and differentiation to the osteoblast phenotype were analyzed by microarray gene expression profiling in samples ranging from 1 to 24 h following BMP-2 dependent differentiation of C2C12 premyoblasts into the osteogenic lineage. A total of 1,800 genes were responsive to BMP-2 and expression was modulated from 3-to 14-fold for less than 100 genes during the time course. Approximately 50% of these 100 genes are either up- or downregulated. Major events associated with phenotypic changes towards the osteogenic lineage were identified from hierarchical and functional clustering analyses. BMP-2 immediately responsive genes (1-4 h), which exhibited either transient or sustained expression, reflect activation and repression of non-osseous BMP-2 developmental systems. This initial response was followed by waves of expression of nuclear proteins and developmental regulatory factors including inhibitors of DNA binding, Runx2, C/EBP, Zn finger binding proteins, forkhead, and numerous homeobox proteins (e.g., CDP/cut, paired, distaless, Hox) which are expressed at characterized stages during osteoblast differentiation. A sequential profile of genes mediating changes in cell morphology, cell growth, and basement membrane formation is observed as a secondary transient early response (2-8 h). Commitment to the osteogenic phenotype is recognized by 8 h, reflected by downregulation of most myogenic-related genes and induction of a spectrum of signaling proteins and enzymes facilitating synthesis and assembly of an extracellular skeletal environment. These genes included collagens Type I and VI and the small leucine rich repeat family of proteoglycans (e.g., decorin, biglycan, osteomodulin, fibromodulin, and osteoadherin/osteoglycin) that reached peak expression at 24 h. With extracellular matrix development, the bone phenotype was further established from 16 to 24 h by induction of genes for cell adhesion and communication and enzymes that organize the bone ECM. Our microarray analysis resulted in the discovery of a class of genes, initially described in relation to differentiation of astrocytes and oligodendrocytes that are functionally coupled to signals for cellular extensions. They include nexin, neuropilin, latexin, neuroglian, neuron specific gene 1, and Ulip; suggesting novel roles for these genes in the bone microenvironment. This global analysis identified a multistage molecular and cellular cascade that supports BMP-2-mediated osteoblast differentiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-426
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of cellular biochemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 15 2003


  • BMP-2
  • C2C12 cells
  • Genetic circuits
  • Neuronal differentiation
  • Osteogenesis
  • Signal transduction
  • Small leucine rich proteins
  • Transcription factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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