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Am J Physiol. 1996 Jun;270(6 Pt 1):L1040-51.

Markers of airway smooth muscle cell phenotype.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.


Airway smooth muscle plays a principal role in the pathogenesis of asthma. Primary cultures are being used to investigate airway myocyte proliferation and cellular pathways regulating contraction. Airway smooth muscle cells (SMC) modulate from a contractile to a noncontractile phenotype in culture, but no systematic study of the concomitant changes in expression of cytocontractile and cytoskeletal proteins has been reported. We measured temporal changes in protein marker expression of canine tracheal SMC in primary culture, using specific antibodies and cDNA probes. Immunoblot analysis revealed that when cells became proliferative after 5 days of culture, the content of smooth muscle myosin heavy chain (sm-MHC), calponin, sm-alpha-actin, and desmin diminished by > 75%; myosin light chain kinase, h-caldesmon, and beta-tropomyosin had also decreased significantly (P < 0.05). Northern blots revealed that mRNA levels for sm-MHC and sm-alpha-actin were also significantly reduced in proliferative SMC. Conversely, immunoblotting demonstrated the content of non-muscle myosin heavy chain, l-caldesmon, vimentin, alpha/beta-protein kinase C (PKC), and CD44 homing cellular adhesion molecule (HCAM) increased one- to sixfold as cells became proliferative. The content of sm-MHC and sm-alpha-actin protein increased after confluence, suggesting that cultured airway SMC are capable of phenotypic plasticity. Marker protein contents were also compared, by immunoblot assay, between SMC dissociated from trachealis or pulmonary arterial media. Cytocontractile protein content was higher in the trachea, which shortens faster than the pulmonary artery. The identification of these markers provides tools for assessing the phenotype of airway SMC in culture and the airways of asthmatic patients.

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