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Circulation. 1999 Apr 20;99(15):2019-26.

Vascular cell apoptosis: cell type-specific modulation by transforming growth factor-beta1 in endothelial cells versus smooth muscle cells.

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  • 1Cardiovascular Research Laboratory, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



It is postulated that vascular lesion formation and remodeling involves a balance between vascular cell death and cell proliferation. Transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) is a pleiotropic factor expressed within vascular cells that regulates cell growth in a tissue-specific manner. This study tested the hypothesis that the control of vascular cell apoptosis involves cell type-specific regulation by TGF-beta1.


In response to serum withdrawal, cultured endothelial cells and vascular smooth muscle cells exhibited apoptosis as evidenced by DNA laddering and quantitated by analysis of nuclear chromatin morphology. Addition of TGF-beta1 to endothelial cells in serum-free media further potentiated the induction of apoptosis in a dose-dependent fashion. Moreover, TGF-beta1 promoted endothelial cell death despite the presence of 10% serum. However, endothelial cells plated on collagen I were resistant to TGF-beta1-induced apoptosis. This antiapoptotic influence of the matrix was mimicked by integrin activation with anti-beta1 antibodies and associated with increased expression of the antiapoptotic factor bcl-2. In accord with the hypothesis that the modulation of antiapoptotic gene expression may mediate the effects of TGF-beta1 and beta1 integrins on cell fate, we observed that endothelial cells with constitutive upregulation of bcl-2 remained viable despite exposure to TGF-beta1 in serum-free conditions. In contrast to the proapoptotic effect of TGF-beta1 in endothelial cells, addition of TGF-beta1 to vascular smooth muscle cells in serum-free media inhibited apoptosis.


These findings suggest that the effect of cytokines such as TGF-beta1 on cell fate is contextual and is modulated by cell-matrix interactions in a cell type-specific manner.

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