Regional differentiation of cranial suture-associated dura mater in vivo and in vitro: Implications for suture fusion and patency
Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
Despite its prevalence, the etiopathogenesis of craniosynostosis is poorly understood. To better understand the biomolecular events that occur when normal craniofacial growth development goes awry, we must first investigate the mechanisms of normal suture fusion. Murine models in which the posterior frontal (PF) suture undergoes programmed sutural fusion shortly after birth provide an ideal model to study these mechanisms. In previous studies, our group and others have shown that sutural fate (i.e., fusion vs. patency) is regulated by the dura mater (DM) directly underlying a cranial suture. These studies have led to the hypothesis that calvarial DM is regionally differentiated and that this differentiation guides the development of the overlying suture. To test this hypothesis, we evaluated the messenger RNA (mRNA) expression of osteogenic cytokines (transforming growth factor beta1 [TGF-beta1] and TGF-beta3) and bone-associated extracellular matrix (ECM) molecules (collagen I, collagen III, osteocalcin, and alkaline phosphatase) in freshly isolated, rat dural tissues associated with the PF (programmed to fuse) or sagittal (SAG; remains patent) sutures before histological evidence of sutural fusion (postnatal day 6 [N6]). In addition, osteocalcin protein expression and cellular proliferation were localized using immunohistochemical staining and 5-bromo-2'deoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation, respectively. We showed that the expression of osteogenic cytokines and bone-associated ECM molecules is potently up-regulated in the DM associated with the PF suture. In addition, we showed that cellular proliferation in the DM associated with the fusing PF suture is significantly less than that found in the patent SAG suture just before the initiation of sutural fusion N6. Interestingly, no differences in cellular proliferation rates were noted in younger animals (embryonic day 18 [E18] and N2). To further analyze regional differentiation of cranial suture-associated dural cells, we established dural cell cultures from fusing and patent rat cranial sutures in N6 rats and evaluated the expression of osteogenic cytokines (TGF-beta1 and fibroblast growth factor 2 [FGF-2]) and collagen I. In addition, we analyzed cellular production of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). These studies confirmed our in vivo findings and showed that dural cell cultures derived from the fusing PF suture expressed significantly greater amounts of TGF-beta1, FGF-2, and collagen I. In addition, similar to our in vivo findings, we showed that PF suture-derived dural cells produced significantly less PCNA than SAG suture-derived dural cells. Finally, coculture of dural cells with fetal rat calvarial osteoblastic cells (FRCs) revealed a statistically significant increase in proliferation (*p < 0.001) in FRCs cocultured with SAG suture-derived dural cells as compared with FRCs cocultured alone or with PF suture-derived dural cells. Taken together, these data strongly support the hypothesis that the calvarial DM is regionally differentiated resulting in the up-regulation of osteogenic cytokines and bone ECM molecules in the dural tissues underlying fusing but not patent cranial sutures. Alterations in cytokine expression may govern osteoblastic differentiation and ECM molecule deposition, thus regulating sutural fate. Elucidation of the biomolecular events that occur before normal cranial suture fusion in the rat may increase our understanding of the events that lead to premature cranial suture fusion.