Matrix stiffness determines the phenotype of vascular smooth muscle cell in vitro and in vivo: Role of DNA methyltransferase 1

Si An Xie, Tao Zhang, Jin Wang, Feng Zhao, Yun Peng Zhang, Wei Juan Yao, Sung Sik Hur, Yi Ting Yeh, Wei Pang, Li Sha Zheng, Yu Bo Fan, Wei Kong, Xian Wang, Jeng Jiann Chiu, Jing Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)


Cells perceive the physical cues such as perturbations of extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness, and translate these stimuli into biochemical signals controlling various aspects of cell behavior, which contribute to the physiological and pathological processes of multiple organs. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that during arterial stiffening, vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) sense the increase of ECM stiffness, which modulates the cellular phenotype through the regulation in DNA methyltransferases 1 (DNMT1) expression. Moreover, we hypothesized that the mechanisms involve intrinsic stiffening and deficiency in contractility of vascular SMCs. Substrate stiffening was mimicked in vitro with polyacrylamide gels. A contractile-to-synthetic phenotypic transition was induced by substrate stiffening in vascular SMCs through the down-regulation of DNMT1 expression. DNMT1 repression was also observed in the tunica media of mice aortas in an acute aortic injury model and a chronic kidney failure model, as well as in the tunica intima of human carotid arteries with calcified atherosclerotic lesions. DNMT1 inhibition facilitates arterial stiffening in vivo and promotes osteogenic transdifferentiation, calcification and cellular stiffening of vascular SMCs in vitro. These effects may be attributable, at least in part, to the role of DNMT1 in regulating the promoter activities of Transgelin (SM22α) and α-smooth muscle actin (SMA) and the functional contractility of SMCs. We conclude that DNMT1 is a critical regulator that negatively regulates arterial stiffening via maintaining the contractile phenotype of vascular SMCs. This research may facilitate elucidation of the complex crosstalk between vascular SMCs and their surrounding matrix in healthy and in pathological conditions and provide new insights into the implications for potential targeting of the phenotypic regulatory mechanisms in material-related therapeutic applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-216
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Arterial stiffening
  • Cellular stiffening
  • DNA methylation
  • DNMT1
  • Smooth muscle cell calcification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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