Journal of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Medical Science) ›› 2022, Vol. 42 ›› Issue (4): 443-454.doi: 10.3969/j.issn.1674-8115.2022.04.006

• Basic research • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Different roles of SMAD2 and SMAD3 in human embryonic stem cell differentiation

ZHAO Bingnan1(), MA Shuangyu1(), XU Chunlong2(), WANG Qiong1()   

  1. 1.Department of Histoembryology, Genetics and Developmental Biology, Shanghai Key Laboratory of Reproductive Medicine, Shanghai Frontiers Science Center of Cellular Homeostasis and Human Disease, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai 200025, China
    2.Shanghai Center for Brain Science and Brain-Inspired Technology, Shanghai 200031, China
  • Received:2022-01-19 Accepted:2022-04-10 Online:2022-04-28 Published:2022-04-28
  • Contact: XU Chunlong,WANG Qiong;;;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(31771512)

Abstract: Objective

·To investigate the different roles of SMAD proteins (drosophila mothers against decapentaplegic proteins)—SMAD2 and SMAD3, the major downstream effectors of the transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) family, in the differentiation process of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in vitro.


·The protein levels of SMAD2 and SMAD3 were measured by Western blotting in hESCs. The SMAD2 knockout (SMAD2KO) and SMAD3 knockout (SMAD3KO) cell lines were constructed in hESCs by CRISPR/Cas9 (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated protein 9) technology. Immunofluorescence staining was used to detect the effect of SMAD protein loss on the expression of pluripotent factors octamer-binding transcription factor 4 (OCT4) and sex determining region Y-box 2 (SOX2), neuroectoderm (NE) factors paired box 6 (PAX6) and sex determining region Y-box 1 (SOX1), and mesendoderm (ME) factor SOX17. Flow cytometry was used to identify the expression changes of NE factor PAX6 and ME factor SOX17, eomesodermin (EOMES) and C-X-C motif chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4) upon SMAD2 or SMAD3 loss. SMAD2 and SMAD3 plasmids were overexpressed in SMAD2KO and SMAD3KO cell lines, respectively, which were verified by Western blotting. Real-time quantitative reverse transcription PCR (qRT-PCR) was used to check whether the recoveries of SMAD proteins in SMADKO cell lines could restore the expression of ME key factors, like EOMES, forkhead box A2 (FOXA2) and goosecoid homeobox (GSC) during differentiation.


·Although the protein sequences of SMAD2 and SMAD3 were similar, SMAD2 was the main factor expressed in hESCs. SMAD2 knockout and SMAD3 knockout did not affect the expression of pluripotent factors OCT4 and SOX2 from immunofluorescence staining results, nor the expression of NE factors PAX6 and SOX1 combined with flow cytometry results. SMAD3 knockout had no significant effect on the differentiation of hESCs into ME, while SMAD2 knockout severely hindered the expression of ME specific factors such as SOX17, EOMES and CXCR4. By qRT-PCR analysis, overexpression of exogenous SMAD2 in SMAD2KO cells can effectively restore the expression of ME genes including EOMES, FOXA2 and GSC, while replenishment of SMAD3 in SMAD3KO cells almost had no effect.


·SMAD2 and SMAD3 play different roles in the ME differentiation of hESCs. SMAD2, but not SMAD3, is critical for the expression of ME genes in hESCs.

Key words: human embryonic stem cell (hESC), mesendoderm differentiation, SMAD2, SMAD3

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