Kahata K, Dadras MS, Moustakas A
Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology 10 (1) - [2018-01-02; online 2018-01-02]
Epithelia exist in the animal body since the onset of embryonic development; they generate tissue barriers and specify organs and glands. Through epithelial-mesenchymal transitions (EMTs), epithelia generate mesenchymal cells that form new tissues and promote healing or disease manifestation when epithelial homeostasis is challenged physiologically or pathologically. Transforming growth factor-βs (TGF-βs), activins, bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs), and growth and differentiation factors (GDFs) have been implicated in the regulation of epithelial differentiation. These TGF-β family ligands are expressed and secreted at sites where the epithelium interacts with the mesenchyme and provide paracrine queues from the mesenchyme to the neighboring epithelium, helping the specification of differentiated epithelial cell types within an organ. TGF-β ligands signal via Smads and cooperating kinase pathways and control the expression or activities of key transcription factors that promote either epithelial differentiation or mesenchymal transitions. In this review, we discuss evidence that illustrates how TGF-β family ligands contribute to epithelial differentiation and induce mesenchymal transitions, by focusing on the embryonic ectoderm and tissues that form the external mammalian body lining.