Reprogramming of cellular identity using exogenous expression of transcription factors (TFs) is a powerful and exciting tool for tissue engineering, disease modeling, and regenerative medicine. However, generation of desired cell types using this approach is often plagued by inefficiency, slow conversion, and an inability to produce mature functional cells. Here, we show that expression of constitutively active SMAD2/3 significantly improves the efficiency of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) generation by the Yamanaka factors. Mechanistically, SMAD3 interacts with reprogramming factors and co-activators and co-occupies OCT4 target loci during reprogramming. Unexpectedly, active SMAD2/3 also markedly enhances three other TF-mediated direct reprogramming conversions, from B cells to macrophages, myoblasts to adipocytes, and human fibroblasts to neurons, highlighting broad and general roles for SMAD2/3 as cell-reprogramming potentiators. Our results suggest that co-expression of active SMAD2/3 could enhance multiple types of TF-based cell identity conversion and therefore be a powerful tool for cellular engineering.
Squamous cell carcinomas occurring at transition zones are highly malignant tumors with poor prognosis. The identity of the cell population and the signaling pathways involved in the progression of transition zone squamous cell carcinoma are poorly understood, hence representing limited options for targeted therapies. Here, we identify a highly tumorigenic cancer stem cell population in a mouse model of transitional epithelial carcinoma and uncover a novel mechanism by which loss of TGFβ receptor II (Tgfbr2) mediates invasion and metastasis through de-repression of ELMO1, a RAC-activating guanine exchange factor, specifically in cancer stem cells of transition zone tumors. We identify ELMO1 as a novel target of TGFβ signaling and show that restoration of Tgfbr2 results in a complete block of ELMO1 in vivo. Knocking down Elmo1 impairs metastasis of carcinoma cells to the lung, thereby providing insights into the mechanisms of progression of Tgfbr2-deficient invasive transition zone squamous cell carcinoma.