Once they have differentiated, cells retain their individual character and repress genes that are specifically expressed in other cell lineages, but how alternative fate choice is restricted during and/or after differentiation remains unclear. In the mammalian central nervous system, neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes are generated throughout life from common tripotent neural progenitor cells (NPCs). Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) are well-known astrocyte-inducing cytokines. We show here that the expression of a transcriptional repressor, REl silencer of transcription (RESTJ/neuron- restrictive silencer factor (NRSF), is up-regulated and sustained by BMP signal activation in the course of astrocytic differentiation of NPCs, and restricts neuronal differentiation. We further show that, in differentiated astrocytes, endogenous REST/ NRSF associates with various neuronal genes and that disruption of its function resulted in their derepression, thereby explaining how ectopic neuronal gene expression is prevented in cells with astrocytic traits. Collectively, our results suggest that REST/NRSF functions as a molecular regulator of the nonneuronal phenotype in astrocytes.
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