TGF-β signaling to chromatin: how Smads regulate transcription during self-renewal and differentiation
Ligands of the TGF-β superfamily (including the TGF-βs, Nodal and BMPs) play instructive roles during embryonic development. This is achieved by regulation of genes important for both maintaining pluripotency and germ layer specification and differentiation. Here we review how the TGF-β superfamily ligands signal to the chromatin to regulate transcription during development. The effectors of the pathway, the Smad transcription factors, are regulated in a combinatorial and spatiotemporal manner. This occurs via post-translational modifications affecting stability, localization and activity, as well as through interactions with other transcription factors and chromatin modifying enzymes, which occur on DNA. Expression profiling and Chromatin Immunoprecipitation have defined Smad target genes and binding sites on a genome-wide scale, which vary between cell types and differentiation stages. This has led to the insight that Smad-mediated transcriptional responses are influenced by the presence of master transcription factors, such as OCT4, SOX2 and NANOG in embryonic stem cells, interaction with other signal-induced factors, as well as by the general chromatin remodeling machinery. Interplay with transcriptional repressors and the polycomb group proteins also regulates the balance between expression of self-renewal and mesendoderm-specific genes in embryonic stem cells and during early development.