Spaceflight, aging, and disuse lead to reduced BMD. This study shows that overexpression of constitutively active RhoA restores actin cytoskeletal arrangement, enhances the osteoblastic phenotype, and suppresses the adipocytic phenotype of human mesenchymal stem cells cultured in modeled microgravity. INTRODUCTION: Reduced BMD during spaceflight is partly caused by reduced bone formation. However, mechanisms responsible for this bone loss remain unclear. We have previously shown reduced osteoblastogenesis and enhanced adipogenesis of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) cultured in modeled microgravity (MMG). The small GTPase, RhoA, regulates actin stress fiber formation and has been implicated in the lineage commitment of hMSCs. We examined the effects of MMG on actin cytoskeletal organization and RhoA activity and the ability of constitutively active RhoA to reverse these effects. MATERIALS AND METHODS: hMSCs were seeded onto plastic microcarrier beads at a density of 10(6) and allowed to form aggregates in DMEM containing 10% FBS for 7 days. Aggregates were incubated in DMEM containing 2% FBS for 6 h with or without an adenoviral vector containing constitutively active RhoA at a multiplicity of infection (moi) of 500 and allowed to recover in 10% FBS for 24 h. Cells were transferred to the rotary cell culture system to model microgravity or to be maintained at normal gravity for 7 days in DMEM, 10% FBS, 10 nM dexamethasone, 10 mM beta-glycerol phosphate, and 50 muM ascorbic acid 2-phosphate. RESULTS: F-actin stress fibers are disrupted in hMSCs within 3 h of initiation of MMG and are completely absent by 7 days, whereas monomeric G-actin is increased. Because of the association of G-actin with lipid droplets in fat cells, the observed 310% increase in intracellular lipid accumulation in hMSCs cultured in MMG was not unexpected. Consistent with these changes in cellular morphology, 7 days of MMG significantly reduces RhoA activity and subsequent phosphorylation of cofilin by 88+/-2% and 77+/-9%, respectively. Importantly, introduction of an adenoviral construct expressing constitutively active RhoA reverses the elimination of stress fibers, significantly increases osteoblastic gene expression of type I collagen, alkaline phosphatase, and runt-related transcription factor 2, and suppresses adipocytic gene expression of leptin and glucose transporter 4 in hMSCs cultured in MMG. CONCLUSION: Suppression of RhoA activity during MMG represents a novel mechanism for reduced osteoblastogenesis and enhanced adipogenesis of hMSCs.
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