SMAD7 deficiency stimulates Müller progenitor cell proliferation during the development of the mammalian retina
Members of the transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) family of proteins modulate the proliferation, differentiation, and survival of many different cell types. Neural stem and progenitor cells (NPCs) in the adult brain are inhibited in their proliferation by TGF-beta and by bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). Here, we investigated neurogenesis in a hypomorphic mouse model for the TGF-beta and BMP inhibitor Smad7, with the hypothesis that NPC proliferation might be reduced due to increased TGF-beta and BMP signaling. Unexpectedly, we found enhanced NPC proliferation as well as an increased number of label-retaining cells in vivo. The enhanced proliferation potential of mutant cells was retained in vitro in neurosphere cultures. We observed a higher sphere-forming capacity as well as faster growth and cell cycle progression. Use of specific inhibitors revealed that these effects were independent of TGF-beta and BMP signaling. The enhanced proliferation might be at least partially mediated by elevated signaling via epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor, as mutant cells showed higher expression and activation levels of the EGF receptor. Conversely, an EGF receptor inhibitor reduced the proliferation of these cells. Our data indicate that endogenous Smad7 regulates neural stem/progenitor cell proliferation in a TGF-beta- and BMP-independent manner.