5-Azacytidine (5-Aza) induces differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into cardiomyocytes. However, the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. Our previous work showed that 5-Aza induces human bone marrow-derived MSCs to differentiate into cardiomyocytes. Here, we demonstrated that 5-Aza induced cardiac differentiation of human umbilical cord-derived MSCs (hucMSCs) and explored the potential signaling pathway. Our results showed that hucMSCs had cardiomyocyte phenotypes after 5-Aza treatment. In addition, myogenic cells differentiated from hucMSCs were positive for mRNA and protein of desmin, b-myosin heavy chain, cardiac troponin T, A-type natriuretic peptide, and Nkx2.5. Human diploid lung ﬁbroblasts treated with 5-Aza expressed no cardiac-speciﬁc genes. 5-Aza did not induce hucMSCs to differentiate into osteoblasts. Further study revealed that 5-Aza treatment activated extracellular signal related kinases (ERK) in hucMSCs, but protein kinase C showed no response to 5-Aza administration. U0126, a speciﬁc inhibitor of ERK, could inhibit 5-Aza-induced expression of cardiac-speciﬁc genes and proteins in hucMSCs. Increased phosphorylation of signal transducers and activators of transcription 3, and up-regulation of myocyte enhancer-binding factor-2c and myogenic differentiation antigen in 5-Aza-treated hucMSCs were also suppressed by U0126. Taken together, these results suggested that sustained activation of ERK by 5-Aza contributed to the induction of the differentiation of hucMSCs into cardiomyocytes in vitro.
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