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Keywords:

  • osteoblast;
  • transcriptional factors;
  • chromatin;
  • osteocalcin;
  • mitogen-activated protein kinase

Abstract

The ERK/MAP kinase pathway is an important regulator of gene expression and differentiation in postmitotic cells. To understand how this pathway controls gene expression in bone, we examined the subnuclear localization of P-ERK in differentiating osteoblasts. Induction of differentiation was accompanied by increased ERK phosphorylation and expression of osteoblast-related genes, including osteocalcin (Bglap2) and bone sialoprotein (Ibsp). Confocal immunofluorescence microscopy revealed that P-ERK colocalized with the RUNX2 transcription factor in the nuclei of differentiating cells. Interestingly, a portion of this nuclear P-ERK was directly bound to the proximal promoter regions of Bglap2 and Ibsp. Furthermore, the level of P-ERK binding to chromatin increased with differentiation, whereas RUNX2 binding remained relatively constant. The P-ERK-chromatin interaction was seen only in RUNX2-positive cells, required intact RUNX2-selective enhancer sequences, and was blocked with MAPK inhibition. These studies show for the first time that RUNX2 specifically targets P-ERK to the chromatin of osteoblast-related genes, where it may phosphorylate multiple substrates, including RUNX2, resulting in altered chromatin structure and gene expression. © 2010 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research