Adipogenic differentiation plays a vital role in energy homeostasis and endocrine system. Several transcription factors, including peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma 2 and CCAAT–enhancer-binding protein (C/EBP) α, β, and δ, are important for the process, whereas the stage-specific intracellular signal transduction regulating the onset of adipogenesis remains enigmatic. Here, we explored the functional role of c-jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs) in adipogenic differentiation using in vitro differentiation models of 3T3-L1 cells and primary adipo-progenitor cells. JNK inactivation with either a pharmacological inhibitor or JNK2-specific siRNA suppressed adipogenic differentiation, characterized by decreased lipid droplet appearance and the down-regulation of Adiponectin, fatty acid protein 4 (Fabp4), Pparg2, and C/ebpa expressions. Conversely, increased adipogenesis was observed by the inducible overexpression of p46JNK2 (JNK2-1), whereas it was not observed by that of p54JNK2 (JNK2-2), indicating a distinct role of p46JNK2. The essential role of JNK appears restricted to the early stage of adipogenic differentiation, as JNK inhibition in the later stages did not influence adipogenesis. Indeed, JNK phosphorylation was significantly induced at the onset of adipogenic differentiation. As for the transcription factors involved in early adipogenesis, JNK inactivation significantly inhibited the induction of C/ebpd, but not C/ebpb, during the initial stage of adipogenic differentiation. JNK activation increased C/ebpd mRNA and protein expression through the induction and phosphorylation of activating transcription factor 2 (ATF2) that binds to a responsive element within the C/ebpd gene promoter region. Taken together, these data indicate that constitutive JNK activity is specifically required for the initial stage differentiation events of adipocytes.

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