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J Vasc Surg. 2004 Dec;40(6):1199-207.

Aging exacerbates neointimal formation, and increases proliferation and reduces susceptibility to apoptosis of vascular smooth muscle cells in mice.

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Department of Surgery, University of Miami School of Medicine, FL 33136, USA.



In response to injury, aging mediates exaggerated neointimal formation, the pathologic hallmark of obliterative vascular diseases. We assessed the development of neointima in a model of mechanical vascular injury in aging mice (18 months old) and young mice (2 months old). To investigate the mechanisms by which aging affects neointimal formation, we also carried out a set of in vitro studies to characterize the biologic properties of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) derived from aging and young mice.


Aging and young mice were subjected to wire injury to the carotid artery. Four weeks later injured arteries were harvested, and neointimal formation was histologically assessed. The profiles of angiogenesis-related genes between aortic VSMCs derived from aging and young mice were compared with complementary DNA arrays. Expression of platelet-derived growth factor receptor-alpha (PDGFR-alpha) and proliferation in response to platelet-derived growth factor-BB (PDGF-BB) by VSMCs were assessed. Susceptibility to apoptosis in aging and young VSMCs in response to nitric oxide and serum starvation was investigated. In addition, the level of apoptosis in neointimal VSMCs (by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate nick-end labeling assay) was compared between aging and young animals.


When compared with young mice, aging mice exhibited exaggerated neointimal formation (intima-media ratio, 1.17 +/- 0.57 vs 0.49 +/- 0.16; P < .0001). Aging VSMCs expressed higher levels of PDGFR-alpha (12.0% +/- 2.7% vs 3.2 +/- 0.67%; P = .034) and greater proliferative response (4-fold increase) to PDGF-BB, compared with young VSMCs. However, aging VSMCs were less susceptible to apoptosis when subjected to serum starvation (75% less) and exposure to nitric oxide (50% less). Furthermore, there was more apoptosis in the neointima of young arteries than in their aging counterparts (8.75% +/- 3.3% vs 2.8% +/- 1.9; P = .021).


Age-dependent increases in PDGFR-alpha may alter VSMC proliferation, and when coupled with resistance to apoptosis could contribute to exaggerated neointima formation in aging animals. Of significance, our findings in the mouse will enable application of abundant molecular tools afforded by this species to further dissect the mechanisms of exaggerated neointimal formation associated with aging.


Neointimal formation is the pathologic hallmark of obliterative vascular diseases, including primary atherosclerosis, post stent restenosis, graft occlusion after vascular bypass procedures, and transplant allograft vasculopathy. Aging is an independent risk factor for development of cardiovascular diseases, and aging exaggerates neointimal formation after vascular injury. Understanding the mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon may facilitate prevention or provide new therapies for vascular occlusive diseases, which are so prevalent in the aging population. Our ability to reproduce the model in the mouse will no doubt facilitate such understanding.

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