Stem cells transform into a cardiac phenotype with remodeling of the nuclear transport machinery

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Nuclear transport of transcription factors is a critical step in stem cell commitment to a tissue-specific lineage. While it is recognized that nuclear pores are gatekeepers of nucleocytoplasmic exchange, it is unknown how the nuclear transport machinery becomes competent to support genetic reprogramming and cell differentiation. Here, we report the dynamics of nuclear transport factor expression and nuclear pore microanatomy during cardiac differentiation of embryonic stem cells. Cardiac progeny derived from pluripotent stem cells displayed a distinct proteomic profile characterized by the emergence of cardiac-specific proteins. This profile correlated with the nuclear translocation of cardiac transcription factors. The nuclear transport genes, including nucleoporins, importins, exportins, transportins, and Ran-related factors, were globally downregulated at the genomic level, streamlining the differentiation program underlying stem cell-derived cardiogenesis. Establishment of the cardiac molecular phenotype was associated with an increased density of nuclear pores spanning the nuclear envelope. At nanoscale resolution, individual nuclear pores exhibited conformational changes resulting in the expansion of the pore diameter and an augmented probability of conduit occupancy. Thus, embryonic stem cells undergo adaptive remodeling of the nuclear transport infrastructure associated with nuclear translocation of cardiac transcription factors and execution of the cardiogenic program, underscoring the plasticity of the nucleocytoplasmic trafficking machinery in accommodating differentiation requirements.

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