Megakaryocytes, as precursor cells of platelets, comprise a cell population crucial for the maintenance of adult hematopoiesis. Since platelets are anuclear cellular fragments, the platelet transcriptome as well as the proteome are largely determined by the megakaryocyte. Calcium signaling in response to agonists such as collagen or thrombin has a central function in platelet activation and therefore likely represents an important signaling pathway in megakaryocytes as well. Indeed, megakaryocytes show considerable elevation of intracellular calcium levels in response to selected platelet agonists, but the downstream effector molecules of calcium signaling in these cells or the transcriptional responses induced are unknown. We here establish calcineurin and the NFAT (Nuclear Factor of Activated T cells) family of transcription factors as components of a calcium-induced signaling cascade in megakaryocytes. In resting megakaryocytes, NFAT is cytoplasmic and inactive, but can be activated by fibrillar collagen type 1, a physiological agonist of platelets and megakaryocytes known to induce a sustained increase in intracellular calcium levels in these cells. In contrast, treatment with SDF-1a, thrombopoietin, or VEGF remained without noticeable effect, presumably because of the short duration of the calcium transients induced by these agents. Collagen-induced NFAT activation in megakaryocytes requires dephosphorylation by calcineurin and is completely sensitive to the calcineurin inhibitor cyclosporin A. Activation of NFAT by collagen was paralleled by the induction of the expression of Down Syndrome Critical Region I (DSCR1) and Fas Ligand (FasL), two genes recently identified as NFAT targets in megakaryocytes. Collagen-induced expression of DSCR1 and FasL occurred in a calcineurin- and NFAT-dependent manner, as it was blocked by both cyclosporin A as well as the specific peptide inhibitor of NFAT, VIVIT. These experiments show that the calcineurin pathway is a target for selected physiological ligands capable of inducing sustained calcium mobilization in megakaryocytes and regulates megakaryocyte gene expression in a cyclosporin A- and NFAT-dependent manner.

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