Research Summary: NGF and proNGF Regulate Functionally Distinct mRNAs in PC12 Cells: An Early Gene Expression Profiling


The biological activities of NGF and of its precursor proNGF are quite distinct, due to different receptor binding profiles, but little is known about how proNGF regulates gene expression. Whether proNGF is a purely pro-apoptotic molecule and/or simply a “less potent NGF” is still a matter of debate. We performed experiments to address this question, by verifying whether a proNGF specific transcriptional signature, distinct from that of NGF, could be identified. To this aim, we studied gene expression regulation by proNGF and NGF in PC12 cells incubated for 1 and 4 hours with recombinant NGF and proNGF, in its wild-type or in a furin-cleavage resistant form. mRNA expression profiles were analyzed by whole genome microarrays at early time points, in order to identify specific profiles of NGF and proNGF. Clear differences between the mRNA profiles modulated by the three neurotrophin forms were identified. NGF and proNGF modulate remarkably distinct mRNA expression patterns, with the gene expression profile regulated by NGF being significantly more complex than that by proNGF, both in terms of the total number of differentially expressed mRNAs and of the gene families involved. Moreover, while the total number of genes modulated by NGF increases dramatically with time, that by proNGFs is unchanged or reduced. We identified a subset of regulated genes that could be ascribed to a “pure proNGF” signalling, distinct from the “pure NGF” one. We also conclude that the composition of mixed NGF and proNGF samples, when the two proteins coexist, influences the profile of gene expression. Based on this comparison of the gene expression profiles regulated by NGF and its proNGF precursor, we conclude that the two proteins activate largely distinct transcriptional programs and that the ratio of NGF to proNGF in vivo can profoundly influence the pattern of regulated mRNAs.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 3-June-2011

Author(s): D’Onofrio M., Paoletti F., Arisi I., Brandi R., Malerba F., Fasulo L., Cattaneo A.


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