The Ras-GTPase activity of neurofibromin restrains ERK-dependent FGFR signaling during endochondral bone formation


Koichiro Ono, Matthew R. Karolak, Jean de la Croix Ndong, Weixi Wang, Xiangli Yang and Florent Elefteriou


The severe defects in growth plate development caused by chondrocyte extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases 1 and 2 (ERK1/2) gain or loss-of-function suggest that tight spatial and temporal regulation of mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling is necessary to achieve harmonious growth plate elongation and structure. We provide here evidence that neurofibromin, via its Ras guanosine triphosphatase -activating activity, controls ERK1/2-dependent fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR) signaling in chondrocytes. We show first that neurofibromin is expressed in FGFR-positive prehypertrophic and hypertrophic chondrocytes during growth plate endochondral ossification. Using mice lacking neurofibromin 1 (Nf1) in type II collagen-expressing cells, (Nf1col2−/− mutant mice), we then show that lack of neurofibromin in post-mitotic chondrocytes triggers a number of phenotypes reminiscent of the ones observed in mice characterized by FGFR gain-of-function mutations. Those include dwarfism, constitutive ERK1/2 activation, strongly reduced Ihh expression and decreased chondrocyte proliferation and maturation, increased chondrocytic expression of Rankl, matrix metalloproteinase 9 (Mmp9) and Mmp13 and enhanced growth plate osteoclastogenesis, as well as increased sensitivity to caspase-9 mediated apoptosis. Using wildtype (WT) and Nf1−/− chondrocyte cultures in vitro, we show that FGF2 pulse-stimulation triggers rapid ERK1/2 phosphorylation in both genotypes, but that return to the basal level is delayed in Nf1−/− chondrocytes. Importantly, in vivo ERK1/2 inhibition by daily injection of a recombinant form of C-type natriuretic peptide to post-natal pups for 18 days was able to correct the short stature of Nf1col2−/− mice. Together, these results underscore the requirement of neurofibromin and ERK1/2 for normal endochondral bone formation and support the notion that neurofibromin, by restraining RAS-ERK1/2 signaling, is a negative regulator of FGFR signaling in differentiating chondrocytes.

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