April 2, 2014

Development and disease in the aorta

Smooth muscle cells that line the aorta differ in development but not in the adult, a finding that has implications for understanding aortic development and disease.

The border between the ascending and descending aorta is the site of several cardiovascular defects in humans, including aortic aneurism. This also is the point of convergence of two “domains” of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) derived from different embryonic sources during development.

In a study published in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology, Elise Pfaltzgraff, a graduate student in the laboratory of David Bader, Ph.D., and colleagues used in vitro gene profiling and myographic analyses of embryonic mouse tissue to demonstrate that VSMCs in the two domains had unique characteristics.

While the two domains exhibited different gene expression patterns and cytoskeletal and migratory properties during development, they “converged” and became indistinguishable in normal adult mouse tissue.

These novel findings establish a “roadmap” for determining how convergence occurs and whether fundamental differences in embryonic VSMCs play a role in vascular diseases in the adult. Understanding the biology of these different VSMC populations can inform the study and treatment of human disease as well.

This research, a collaboration of the laboratories of Jeff Reese, M.D., Bader and Patricia Labosky, Ph.D., who is now at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was supported by grants from the American Heart Association and NIH (HL096967, HL109199 and DK083234).

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