The P19 embryonal carcinoma cell line is a useful model cells for studies on cardiac differentiation. However, its low efficacy of differentiation hampers its usefulness. We investigated the effect of 5-azacytidine (5-aza) on P19 cells to differentiate into a high-efficacy cardiomyocytes. Embryoid-body-like structures were formed after 6 days with 1 mM of 5-aza in a P19 cell monolayer culture, beating cell clusters first observed on day 12, and, the production of beating cell clusters increased by 80.1% (29 of 36-wells) after 18 days. In comparison, the spontaneous beating cells was 33.3% (12 of 36-wells) for the untreated control cells. In response to 1 mM of 5-aza, P19 cells expressed bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2), BMP-4, Bmpr1a and Smad1 at day 6 or 9, and also cardiac markers such as GATA-4, Nkx2.5, cardiac troponin I, and desmin were up-regulated in a time-dependent manner after induction of BMP signaling molecules. Immunocytochemistry revealed the expression of smooth muscle a-actin, sarcomeric a-actinin, cardiac myosin heavy chain, cardiac troponin T and desmin, respectively. The proportion of sarcomeric a-actinin positive cells accounted for 6.48% on day 15 after 5-aza exposure as measured by flow cytometry. This study has demonstrated that 5-aza induces differentiation of P19 cells into cardiomyocytes in a confluent monolayer culture in the absence of prior embryoid formation and dimethyl sulfoxide exposure, depending in part on alteration of BMP signaling molecules. These results suggest that 5-aza treatment could be used as a new method for cardiac differentiation in P19 cells.
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