Smad4-dependent pathways control basement membrane deposition and endodermal cell migration at early stages of mouse development
Costello I., Biondi CA., Taylor JM., Bikoff EK., Robertson EJ.
Background. Smad4 mutant embryos arrest shortly after implantation and display a characteristic shortened proximodistal axis, a significantly reduced epiblast, as well as a thickened visceral endoderm layer. Conditional rescue experiments demonstrate that bypassing the primary requirement for Smad4 in the extra-embryonic endoderm allows the epiblast to gastrulate. Smad4-independent TGF-signals are thus sufficient to promote mesoderm formation and patterning. To further analyse essential Smad4 activities contributed by the extra-embryonic tissues, and characterise Smad4 dependent pathways in the early embryo, here we performed transcriptional profiling of Smad4 null embryonic stem (ES) cells and day 4 embryoid bodies (EBs). Results. Transcripts from wild-type versus Smad4 null ES cells and day 4 EBs were analysed using Illumina arrays. In addition to several known TGF-/BMP target genes, we identified numerous Smad4-dependent transcripts that are mis-expressed in the mutants. As expected, mesodermal cell markers were dramatically down-regulated. We also observed an increase in non-canonical potency markers (Pramel7, Tbx3, Zscan4), germ cell markers (Aire, Tuba3a, Dnmt3l) as well as early endoderm markers (Dpp4, H19, Dcn). Additionally, expression of the extracellular matrix (ECM) remodelling enzymes Mmp14 and Mmp9 was decreased in Smad4 mutant ES and EB populations. These changes, in combination with increased levels of laminin alpha1, cause excessive basement membrane deposition. Similarly, in the context of the Smad4 null E6.5 embryos we observed an expanded basement membrane (BM) associated with the thickened endoderm layer. Conclusion. Smad4 functional loss results in a dramatic shift in gene expression patterns and in the endodermal cell lineage causes an excess deposition of, or an inability to breakdown and remodel, the underlying BM layer. These structural abnormalities probably disrupt reciprocal signalling between the epiblast and overlying visceral endoderm required for gastrulation.