Mechanotransduction pathway activation in familial thoracic aortic aneurysms and dissections

Andrea Lee Lafont, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Thoracic aortic aneurysms and dissections (TAAD) are autosomal dominantly inherited in 19% of patients. Mapping studies determined that the disease is genetically heterogeneous with multiple loci and genetic mutations accounting for familial TAAD. However, regardless of the specific mutation, resulting pathology is consistently medial degeneration, characterized by increased proteoglycans and loss of elastic fibers. We tested the hypothesis that genetic mutations leading to familial TAAD alter common pathways in aortic smooth muscle cells (SMCs). Identification of mutations at R460 in TGFBR2 reveals a 5% contribution to TAAD, however downstream analysis of Smad2 phosphorylation in the TGF-β pathway is not commonly altered in familial or sporadic disease when compared to controls. Expression profiling using Illumina's Sentrix HumanRef 8 Expression Beadchip array was done on RNA isolated from SMCs explanted from 6 patients with inherited TAAD with no identified mutation and 3 healthy controls obtained from the International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine. Significant increases in expression of proteoglycan genes in patients' SMCs, specifically lumican, podocan, and decorin were confirmed using Q-PCR and tissue immunofluorescence. NCI's Ingenuity Pathway Analysis predicted alterations in the ERK, insulin receptor and SAPK/JNK pathways (p<0.001), which SMCs activate in response to cyclic stretch. Immunoblotting indicated increased phosphorylation of ERK and GSK-3β, a protein from the insulin receptor pathway, in explanted patient SMCs, also confirmed by increased immunoreactivity against phosphorylated ERK and GSK-3β in the sub-intimal SMCs from patient tissue compared to controls. To determine if mechanotransduction pathway activation was responsible for the medial degeneration a specific inhibitor of GSK-3β, SB216763 was incubated with control cells and significantly increased the expression levels of proteoglycans. Mechanical strain was also applied to control SMCs confirming pathways stimulation with stretch. Incubation with pathway inhibitors against insulin receptor and ERK pathways identify, for the first time that stretch induced GSK-3β phosphorylation may increase proteoglycan expression, and ERK phosphorylation may regulate the expression of MMP2, a protein known to degrade elastic fibers. Furthermore, specific mutations in SMC-specific β-myosin heavy chain and α-actin, in addition to upregulation of pathways activated by cyclic stretch suggest that SMC response to hemodynamic factors, play a role in this disease.

Subject Area

Cellular biology

Recommended Citation

Lafont, Andrea Lee, "Mechanotransduction pathway activation in familial thoracic aortic aneurysms and dissections" (2008). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3318659.