Craniofacial anomalies are the fourth most common congenital birth defects that occur in new born. Dominant gain-of-function mutations in the fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 (FGFR2) account for the majority of the human craniosynostosis syndromes including Crouzon, Pfeiffer, Jackson-Weiss, Seathre Chotzen and Apert syndrome which are characterized by the premature fusion of cranial sutures before the completion of brain growth. The cranial sutures are specialized joints which contain rapidly dividing osteoprogenitors and mesenchymal cells. The balance between proliferating and differentiating osteoprogenitors is finely regulated by quantitative signals from growth factor receptors including FGFR2, which is expressed by proliferating osteoprogenitors and down-regulated in differentiating osteoblasts. Our preliminary data show that mutations in FGFR2 preferentially affect cranial and facial bones of neural crest origin. Herein, we propose two Specific Aims to determine the mechanisms of FGFR2 signaling that govern craniofacial development and morphogenesis.
In Aim 1. 1, we propose to use the Cre/loxP system to investigate whether activation of a mutant receptor in neural crest cells alone is sufficient to cause craniosynostosis syndrome or whether it requires signals from paraxial mesodermal cells. We will conditionally activate the Crouzon mutation in neural crest cells or mesodermal cells using Wnt1-Cre or Mesp1-Cre mice, respectively. A universal dual reporter strain will be used to identify recombinant cells from non-recombinant cells. Sutures will be examined by histology, in situ hybridization and by microCT.
In Aim 1. 2, we propose to use a novel two color fluorescent system to study the mechanisms of FGFR2 signaling in early osteoprogenitors and mesenchymal cells. Gene expression studies will be performed on three defined homogeneous populations of cells isolated by Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting based on the expression of osteogenic differentiation stage-specific fluorescent markers. Cell intrinsic versus extrinsic effects of the FGFR2 mutations will be studied by co-culture experiments.
In Aim 2, we propose to determine the docking protein Frs21-dependent and independent signaling of FGFR2 that govern craniofacial development. We have shown that uncoupling of Frs21 from the mutant FGFR2 receptor rescues the craniosynostosis phenotype in mice. FGFR2 activation leads to phosphorylation of six tyrosine residues on Frs21, which in turn serve as docking sites for the recruitment of four Grb2 and two Shp2 signaling molecules. Our hypothesis is that Shp2 is the critical mediator of pathological signals of Frs21 from the activated FGFR2. We will test this hypothesis by using two genetically engineered Frs21 mutant mouse models that cannot recruit Grb2 or Shp2 in response to FGFR activation in the context of the Crouzon mutation. Collectively, this work will provide a detailed molecular picture of how FGF-signaling, mediated by the FGFR2 and the docking protein Frs21, regulates craniofacial patterning and development under normal and disease conditions.

Public Health Relevance

Dominant gain of function mutations in FGFR2 accounts for majority of the human craniosynostosis syndromes including Crouzon, Pfeiffer and Apert syndrome which are characterized by the premature fusion of cranial sutures before the completion of brain growth. The goal of this proposal is to obtain a comprehensive molecular picture of the signaling pathways that are activated in response to FGFR2 stimulation, which govern craniofacial development. It is anticipated that the findings will enable the design of novel pharmacological interventions for craniofacial disorders that are caused by dysfunction in FGFRs.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
Research Project (R01)
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Skeletal Biology Development and Disease Study Section (SBDD)
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Scholnick, Steven
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Yale University
Schools of Medicine
New Haven
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Lin, Ying; Gao, Hongbin; Ai, Siming et al. (2017) C278F mutation in FGFR2 gene causes two different types of syndromic craniosynostosis in two Chinese patients. Mol Med Rep 16:5333-5337
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