GDF3 at the Crossroads of TGF-beta Signaling


Embryonic stem (ES) cells present an excellent system for addressing the relevance of our current knowledge about how cell fate is determined and how cells integrate multiple signals into a single outcome as a function of time. Many of the factors that mediate these phenomena have been discovered through classical embryological experiments and are organized into several major signal transduction pathways including TGF-β/BMP, Jak-STAT, Hedgehog, Wnt, Notch and FGF/MAPK.1 This review will summarize the current understanding of TGF-β signaling in ES and focus on early embryological roles of the TGF-β member, GDF-3. GDF-3 is associated with the undifferentiated state of ES cells and two recent and contradictory reports examined the function and mechanism of GDF-3 in the context of both stem cells and early embryonic differentiations. While Levine and Brivanlou found that GDF-3 inhibits its own subfamily members (the BMPs), Chen and colleagues found that GDF-3 acts as a nodal-like TGF-β ligand. These combined findings raise the intriguing possibility that GDF-3 acts as a bi-functional protein, to regulate the balance between the two modes of TGF-β signaling.

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GDF3 at the Crossroads of TGF-beta Signaling