The glycoprotein YKL-40 (CHI3L1) is a secreted chitinase family protein that induces angiogenesis, cell survival, and cell proliferation, and plays roles in tissue remodeling and immune regulation. It is expressed primarily in cells of mesenchymal origin, is overexpressed in numerous aggressive carcinomas and sarcomas, but is rarely expressed in normal ectodermal tissues. Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be induced to differentiate into various mesenchymal tissues and trans-differentiate into some non-mesenchymal cell types. Since YKL-40 has been used as a mesenchymal marker, we followed YKL-40 expression as undifferentiated MSCs were induced to differentiate into bone, cartilage, and neural phenotypes. Undifferentiated MSCs contain significant levels of YKL-40 mRNA but do not synthesize detectable levels of YKL-40 protein. MSCs induced to differentiate into chondrocytes and osteocytes soon began to express and secrete YKL-40 protein, as do ex vivo cultured chondrocytes and primary osteocytes. In contrast, MSCs induced to trans-differentiate into neurons did not synthesize YKL-40 protein, consistent with the general absence of YKL-40 protein in normal CNS parenchyma. However, these trans-differentiated neurons retained significant levels of YKL-40 mRNA, suggesting the mechanisms which prevented YKL-40 translation in undifferentiated MSCs remained in place, and that these trans-differentiated neurons differ in at least this way from neurons derived from neuronal stem cells. Utilization of a differentiation protocol containing β-mercaptoethanol resulted in cells that expressed significant amounts of intracellular YKL-40 protein that was not secreted, which is not seen in normal cells. Thus the synthesis of YKL-40 protein is a marker for MSC differentiation into mature mesenchymal phenotypes, and the presence of untranslated YKL-40 mRNA in non-mesenchymal cells derived from MSCs reflects differences between differentiated and trans-differentiated phenotypes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)