It is well established that syncytium formation involves the fusion of mononucleated trophoblasts into a multinucleated structure and the secretion of hormonal factors, such as human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). These morphological and biochemical changes are regulated by a plethora of ligands, which upon binding to specific receptors trigger the activation of many signaling pathways, such as janus kinase/signal transducer and activator of transcription (JAK/STAT) and the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2 (MAPK3/1). We used the forskolin-induced syncytialization of trophoblastlike BeWo cells to characterize at the cellular level the effect mediated by leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) on trophoblast differentiation and to describe its action at the molecular level. Forskolin induces both hCG secretion and BeWo cell syncytial fusion. Although LIF had no effect on the undifferentiated state of the cells, the cytokine generated a strong reduction in forskolin-induced hCG release. In contrast to its effect on hCG secretion, LIF exerts a synergistic effect toward forskolin-induced fusion. LIF reduced hormonal production through a STAT1- and STAT3-dependent mechanism, whereas MAPK3/1 was not involved in this process. However, both types of signaling molecules were required to mediate the action of LIF in forskolin-induced cell fusion. These data provide novel insights into the regulation of trophoblast cell differentiation by LIF and describe for the first time the molecular mechanism underlying the effect of the cytokine.
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Vol. 86 • No. 2