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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A chemical genetics strategy exposes novel modulators of chondrogenesis that act by blocking a potassium channel, Kcnd2, & reveals a potential role for potassium channels in limb development Graham, Erin Mackenzie


Much of the vertebrate skeleton is formed through endochondral ossification. In this process, a chondrogenic template is laid down, which is subsequently replaced by bone. The first step involves condensation of mesenchymal cells and their differentiation into chondroblasts that initiate elaboration of the chondrogenic template. At later stages, chondrocytes undergo hypertrophy, and produce a matrix for bone formation. To enhance our understanding of molecular programs regulating this process a chemical genetics approach was employed. Our strategies involved the development of screens using primary cultures of murine limb bud-derived mesenchymal (PLM) cells. Chondroblast differentiation is associated with increased SOX5, 6 and 9 activity; while hypertrophic differentiation is associated with reduced SOX5, 6 and 9 activity. Therefore, a SOX5/6/9-responsive reporter gene was used to follow expression of the chondroblast phenotype. Compound libraries representing more than 1400 compounds were screened; 28 compounds were found to increase reporter gene activity greater than 2.5 fold. In secondary screens, 7 of 28 positive compounds stimulated cartilage formation, as assessed by alcian blue staining. Two compounds identified, Butamben (butyl 4-aminobenzoate; BAB) and Phenazopyridine hydrochloride (PHCl), exhibited strong pro-chondrogenic activity and morphologically similar alcian blue staining. BAB is a member of the benzocaine family of analgesics and functions by inhibiting sodium channel activity. However, BAB has also been shown to have potassium channel-blocking activity. Specifically, BAB inhibits the activity of Kcnd2; which through transcriptional profiling was also found to be down-regulated by bone morphogenetic protein-4 (BMP4). We speculated BAB and PHCl may be able to modulate chondrogenesis by acting on potassium channels. To confirm this idea we examined molecular activities of PLM cultures treated with BAB and PHCl at two stages of chondrogenesis: 1. pre-chondrocyte to chondroblast and 2. chondrocyte to hypertrophic chondrocyte. Results confirm, BAB and PHCl increase expression of chondrogenic markers and reduce expression of hypertrophic markers. In addition patch clamp analysis revealed both BAB and PHCl are able to block, at least partially, KCND2 channel activity. We confirmed the dynamic expression pattern of Kcnd2 by qPCR and radioactive section in situ hybridization. Together, these results reveal an unanticipated and novel role for Kcnd2 in chondrogenesis.

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