Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dianna Milewicz, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Blackburn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Bryan, Jr., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Magnus Hook, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joseph McCarty, Ph.D.


Vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a heritable disease of connective tissue caused by mutations in COL3A1, conferring a tissue deficiency of type III collagen. Cutaneous wounds heal poorly in these patients, and they are susceptible to spontaneous and catastrophic rupture of expansible hollow organs like the gut, uterus, and medium-sized to large arteries, which leads to premature death. Although the predisposition for organ rupture is often attributed to inherent tissue fragility, investigation of arteries from a haploinsufficient Col3a1 mouse model (Col3a1+/-) demonstrates that mutant arteries withstand even supraphysiologic pressures comparably to wild-type vessels. We hypothesize that injury that elicits occlusive thrombi instead unmasks defective thrombus resolution resulting from impaired production of type III collagen, which causes deranged remodeling of matrix, persistent inflammation, and dysregulated behavior by resident myofibroblasts, culminating in the development of penetrating neovascular channels that disrupt the mechanical integrity of the arterial wall.

Vascular injury and thrombus formation following ligation of the carotid artery reveals an abnormal persistence and elevated burden of occlusive thrombi at 21 post-operative days in vessels from Col3a1+/- mice, as opposed to near complete resolution and formation of a patent and mature neointima in wild-type mice. At only 14 days, both groups harbor comparable burdens of resolving thrombi, but wild-type mice increase production of type III collagen in actively resolving tissues, while mutant mice do not. Rather, thrombi in mutant mice contain higher burdens of macrophages and proliferative myofibroblasts, which persist through 21 days while wild-type thrombi, inflammatory cells, and proliferation all regress. At the same time that increased macrophage burdens were observed at 14 and 21 days post ligation, the medial layer of mutant arterial walls concurrently harbored a significantly higher incidence of penetrating neovessels compared with those in wild-type mice.

To assess whether limited type III collagen production alters myofibroblast behavior, fibroblasts from vEDS patients with COL3A1 missense mutations were seeded into three-dimensional fibrin gel constructs and stimulated with transforming growth factor-β1 to initiate myofibroblast differentiation. Although early signaling events occur similarly in all cell lines, late extracellular matrix- and mechanically-regulated events like transcriptional upregulation of type I and type III collagen secretion are delayed in mutant cultures, while transcription of genes encoding intracellular contractile machinery is increased. Sophisticated imaging of collagen synthesized de novo by resident myofibroblasts visualizes complex matrix reorganization by control cells but only meager remodeling by COL3A1 mutant cells, concordant with their compensatory contraction to maintain tension in the matrix.

Finally, administration of immunosuppressive rapamycin to mice following carotid ligation sufficiently halts the initial inflammatory phase of thrombus resolution and fully prevents both myofibroblast migration into the thrombus and the differential development of neovessels between mutant and wild-type mice, suggesting that pathological defects in mutant arteries develop secondarily to myofibroblast dysfunction and chronic inflammatory stimulation, rather than as a manifestation of tissue fragility. Together these data establish evidence that pathological defects in the vessel wall architecture develop in mutant arteries as sequelae to abnormal healing and remodeling responses activated by arterial injury. Thus, these data support the hypothesis that events threatening the integrity of type III collagen-deficient vessels develop not as a result of inherent tissue weakness and fragility at baseline but instead as an episodic byproduct of abnormally persistent granulation tissue and fibroproliferative intravascular remodeling.


vascular Ehlers-Danlos, type III collagen, COL3A1, myofibroblast, spontaneous cervical artery dissection, neoangiogenesis



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