Yes-associated protein (YAP) is a transcriptional co-factor involved in many cell processes, including development, proliferation, stemness, differentiation, and tumorigenesis. It has been described as a sensor of mechanical and biochemical stimuli that enables cells to integrate environmental signals. Although in the liver the correlation between extracellular matrix elasticity (greatly increased in the most of chronic hepatic diseases), differentiation/functional state of parenchymal cells and subcellular localization/activation of YAP has been previously reported, its role as regulator of the hepatocyte differentiation remains to be clarified. The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of YAP in the regulation of epithelial/hepatocyte differentiation and to clarify how a transducer of general stimuli can integrate tissue-specific molecular mechanisms determining specific cell outcomes. By means of YAP silencing and overexpression we demonstrated that YAP has a functional role in the repression of epithelial/hepatocyte differentiation by inversely modulating the expression of Snail (master regulator of the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and liver stemness) and HNF4α (master regulator of hepatocyte differentiation) at transcriptional level, through the direct occupancy of their promoters. Furthermore, we found that Snail, in turn, is able to positively control YAP expression influencing protein level and subcellular localization and that HNF4α stably represses YAP transcription in differentiated hepatocytes both in cell culture and in adult liver. Overall, our data indicate YAP as a new member of the HNF4/Snail epistatic molecular circuitry previously demonstrated to control liver cell state. In this model, the dynamic balance between three main transcriptional regulators, that are able to control reciprocally their expression/activity, is responsible for the induction/maintenance of different liver cell differentiation states and its modulation could be the aim of therapeutic protocols for several chronic liver diseases.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research