Fibro/Adipogenic Progenitors (FAPs) define a stem cell population playing a pro-regenerative role after muscle damage. When removed from their natural niche, FAPs readily differentiate into adipocytes or fibroblasts. This digressive differentiation potential, which is kept under tight control in the healthy muscle niche, contributes to fat and scar infiltrations in degenerative myopathies, such as in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Controlling FAP differentiation by means of small molecules may contribute to delay the adverse consequences of the progressive pathological degeneration while offering, at the same time, a wider temporal window for gene therapy and cell-based strategies. In a high content phenotypic screening, we identified the immunosuppressant, azathioprine (AZA) as a negative modulator of FAP adipogenesis. We show here that AZA negatively affects the adipogenic propensity of FAPs purified from wild type and mdx mice by impairing the expression of the master adipogenic regulator, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ). We show that this inhibition correlates with a decline in the activation of the AKT-mTOR axis, the main pathway that transduces the pro-adipogenic stimulus triggered by insulin. In addition, AZA exerts a cytostatic effect that has a negative impact on the mitotic clonal process that is required for the terminal differentiation of the preadipocyte-committed cells.
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