Several major conceptual problems regarding specific in vivo functions of the TGF-β family members remain the key focus of many researchers studying the biology of these secreted signaling molecules. More than 45 members of this family of growth factors have been identified and partially characterized for their molecular roles in numerous processes such as cell proliferation and differentiation, embryonic development, carcinogenesis, immune dysfunction, inflammation and wound healing. The high degree of similarity that exists at the structural level among the isoforms of these growth factors is accompanied by a significant overlap in function, as defined by many in vitro model systems and in vivo systems involving administration of exogenous ligand or of ligand-specific blocking antibodies. The ability to discern the critical functions of these molecules based on patterns of expression has also often been quite difficult. The evolution of more sophisticated functional genomics approaches has been recently instrumental in generating unique perspectives into the mechanisms governing the activity of the members of the TGF -β family. The studies outlined in this review are significant in that they not only support working hypotheses regarding the activities of TGF-β generated through extensive in vitro studies but also raise new questions regarding the role of each isoform in numerous processes. With the rapid advances in these approaches to probe activity in a more cell and time-dependent fashion, we will gain valuable insights for designing approaches for targeting the complex cellular pathways mediating their responses and will also help us develop novel therapies to treat disease processes.
Keywords: Cytokines, Gene Knockout, Transgenic, Novel Phenotypes
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