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Circ Res. 2000 Sep 1;87(5):363-9.

Development of a smooth muscle-targeted cre recombinase mouse reveals novel insights regarding smooth muscle myosin heavy chain promoter regulation.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA.


The use of genetically modified mice has been an important model system to study gene function in cardiovascular development and under pathophysiological conditions. Although conventional gene knockout studies have provided important insights into gene function in the cardiovascular system, they may be limited by upregulation of compensatory pathways and the inability to differentiate direct versus indirect functions in vivo. As a first step in developing systems that can target gene activation or inactivation specifically to smooth muscle cells (SMCs), we coupled the smooth muscle myosin heavy chain (SMMHC) promoter to the cre recombinase gene and generated transgenic mice that express cre in SMCs. In addition, we used these mice to address whether the heterogeneous staining observed in SMMHC-LacZ mice was due to subsets of SMCs that required different regulatory cassettes of the promoter or if it reflected episodic expression of the transgene. To address both the feasibility of SMC targeting and the apparent heterogeneous expression, we bred SMMHC-cre mice to indicator mice containing a cre-activated LacZ gene. Results showed high-level expression in SMCs at various embryonic time points and in adult tissues. Because breeding of SMMHC-cre mice to an indicator line provided an integration of cre activity over time, results of this study revealed that expression of the SMMHC promoter fragment more closely resembled the expression of the endogenous gene, both with respect to the onset of activation during development and uniformity of staining among individual cells within tissues. Overall, these mice will provide a powerful tool to researchers to study gene function in vascular development/disease by using cre/lox technology to direct smooth muscle-specific gene activation or inactivation in vivo.

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