Expression of the invertebrate sea urchin P16 protein into mammalian MC3T3 osteoblasts transforms and reprograms them into "osteocyte-like" cells

Keith Alvares*, Yinshi Ren, Jian Q. Feng, Arthur Veis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


P16 is an acidic phosphoprotein important in both sea urchin embryonic spicule development and transient mineralization during embryogenesis, syncytium formation, and mineralization in mature urchin tooth. Anti-P16 has been used to localize P16 to the syncytial membranes and the calcite mineral. Specific amino acid sequence motifs in P16 are similar to sequences in DSPP, a protein common to all vertebrate teeth, and crucial for their mineralization. Here, we examine the effect of P16 on vertebrate fibroblastic NIH3T3 cells and osteoblastic MC3T3 cells. Transfection of NIH3T3 cells with P16 cDNA resulted in profound changes in the morphology of the cells. In culture, the transfected cells sent out long processes that contacted processes from neighboring cells forming networks or syncytia. There was a similar change in morphology in cultured osteoblastic MC3T3 cells. In addition, the MC3T3 developed numerous dendrites as found in osteocytes. Importantly, there was also a change in the expression of the osteoblast and osteocyte specific genes. MC3T3 cells transfected with P16 showed an 18-fold increase in expression of the osteocyte specific Dentin matrix protein (DMP1) gene, accompanied by decreased expression of osteoblast specific genes: Bone sialoprotein (BSP), osteocalcin (OCN), and β-catenin decreased by 70%, 64%, and 68 %, respectively. Thus, invertebrate urchin P16 with no previously known analog in vertebrates was able to induce changes in both cell morphology and gene expression, converting vertebrate-derived osteoblast-like precursor cells to an "osteocyte-like" phenotype, an important process in bone biology. The mechanisms involved are presently under study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-46
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Developmental Biology


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