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The family of bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) comprises approximately 30 secreted cytokines that signal through transmembrane serine/threonine kinase receptors. The BMP signaling pathways are fine-tuned on multiple levels: Extracellular antagonists modify ligand activity; several co-receptors enhance or inhibit downstream signaling events through multiple mechanisms; and intracellular molecules further regulate the signaling outcome and mediate crosstalk with other pathways. BMPs affect structures and processes throughout the entire body, ranging from embryonic patterning and development through stem cells and their niches, to tissue homeostasis and regeneration. This comprehensive involvement in various tissues had not been expected by Marshall Urist, who initially discovered the ability of an unknown factor in bone to induce bone growth in muscle and subsequently suggested the name “bone morphogenetic protein.” Today, recombinant BMPs are used in clinical practice for the treatment of bone and kidney disorders, and new genetically modified BMPs are emerging as promising tools in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. Clearly, the functions of BMPs within the body are more versatile than initially suspected. To discuss modern trends in BMP signaling, leaders in the field met for the First International BMP Workshop in Berlin in September 2009. Here, we summarize new insights on the roles of BMPs in various tissues and highlight recent findings in cell, structural, and developmental biology as well as the therapeutic potential of BMPs. Finally, we conclude that BMPs today deserve to be called body morphogenetic proteins.
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