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Mol Biol Cell. 2001 Sep;12(9):2730-41.

Alpha-smooth muscle actin expression upregulates fibroblast contractile activity.

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Department of Pathology, CMU, University of Geneva, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland.


To evaluate whether alpha-smooth muscle actin (alpha-SMA) plays a role in fibroblast contractility, we first compared the contractile activity of rat subcutaneous fibroblasts (SCFs), expressing low levels of alpha-SMA, with that of lung fibroblasts (LFs), expressing high levels of alpha-SMA, with the use of silicone substrates of different stiffness degrees. On medium stiffness substrates the percentage of cells producing wrinkles was similar to that of alpha-SMA-positive cells in each fibroblast population. On high stiffness substrates, wrinkle production was limited to a subpopulation of LFs very positive for alpha-SMA. In a second approach, we measured the isotonic contraction of SCF- and LF-populated attached collagen lattices. SCFs exhibited 41% diameter reduction compared with 63% by LFs. TGFbeta1 increased alpha-SMA expression and lattice contraction by SCFs to the levels of LFs; TGFbeta-antagonizing agents reduced alpha-SMA expression and lattice contraction by LFs to the level of SCFs. Finally, 3T3 fibroblasts transiently or permanently transfected with alpha-SMA cDNA exhibited a significantly higher lattice contraction compared with wild-type 3T3 fibroblasts or to fibroblasts transfected with alpha-cardiac and beta- or gamma-cytoplasmic actin. This took place in the absence of any change in smooth muscle or nonmuscle myosin heavy-chain expression. Our results indicate that an increased alpha-SMA expression is sufficient to enhance fibroblast contractile activity.

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