Previous work showed that B cell precursors can be reprogrammed into functional macrophages by the enforced expression of the bZip transcription factor C/EBPalpha. The efficient activation of myelomonocytic genes, such as Mac-1, required the co-operation with endogenous PU.1 (Xie et al. 2004), reflecting the fact that many myelomonocytic genes are regulated by a combination of the two transcription factors. We therefore asked: Is C/EBPa and PU.1 sufficient to convert non-hematopoietic cells into macrophages? To test this, NIH-3T3 cells were co-infected with PU.1-GFP and C/EBPa-hCD4 retrovirusesor control vectors encoding the indicators GFP and hCD4 only. Uninfected cells in the retrovirus treated cultures served as additional controls. Our results showed that ~25% of the PU.1 only infected cells express Mac-1 and that this percentage could be increased ~3 fold by co-expression with C/EBPa. In addition, most cells also expressed CD45 and some expressed F4/80 antigen. The PU.1 infected and the double infected cells, but not the C/EBPa only infected cells, also expressed a number of other myelomonocytic genes as detected by RT-PCR. These included CSF-1R (M-CSFR), GM-CSF Ralpha, Lysozyme, CD32, PYK2 as well as endogenous PU.1. The PU.1 induced reprogramming of fibroblasts required the DNA binding and transcription activation domains, but not the PEST domain of the transcription factor. To test whether the reprogrammed cells have functional macrophage properties, we generated two stable cell lines co-expressing C/EBPa and PU.1 delta PEST (wild type PU.1 is toxic in long-term cultures). These cells were morphologically altered, ingested carboxylated particles, and expressed functional Fc-gamma receptors but were unable to phagocytize antibody coated red blood cells. Remarkably, the two cells lines acquired CSF-1 dependence for growth. In accordance with this finding they exhibited a 10–15 fold reduction of CSF-1 production compared to NIH3T3 cells. The response observed was not restricted to fibroblast cell lines since both embryonic and adult fibroblasts could also be partially reprogrammed by co-infection with PU.1 and C/EBPa in that they expressed Mac-1, CD45, F4/80 and IA MHC antigens. In conclusion, enforced expression of PU.1 and C/EBPa converts fibroblasts into macrophage like cells, indicating that the combination of these two transcription factors is sufficient to regulate the majority of genes that define the myelomonocytic phenotype.

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