Serum response factor (SRF) is required for the expression of a wide variety of muscle-specific genes that are expressed upon differentiation and is thus required for both striated and smooth muscle differentiation in addition to its role in regulating growth factor-inducible genes. A heart and smooth muscle-specific SRF co-activator, myocardin, has been shown to be required for cardiac development and smooth muscle differentiation. However, no such co-factors of SRF have been identified in the skeletal myogenic differentiation program. Myocardin and the related transcription factor megakaryoblastic leukemia-1 (MKL1/MAL/MRTF-A) can strongly potentiate the activity of SRF. Here we report the cloning of the third member of the myocardin/MKL family in humans, MKL2. MKL2 binds to and activates SRF similar to myocardin and MKL1. To determine the role of these factors in skeletal myogenic differentiation we used a dominant negative MKL2 to show that the MKL family of proteins is required for skeletal myogenic differentiation. Expression of the dominant negative protein in C2C12 skeletal myoblasts blocked the differentiation-induced expression of the SRF target genes skeletal alpha-actin and alpha-myosin heavy chain and blocked differentiation of the myoblasts to myotubes in vitro. C2C12 cells express both MKL1 and MKL2, but not myocardin, implicating MKL1 and/or MKL2 in the requirement for skeletal myogenic differentiation. MKL1 was predominantly cytoplasmic in C2C12 cells, with a small amount in the nucleus, however, no movement of MKL1 to the nucleus was observed upon differentiation.
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