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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2005 May;25(5):982-8. Epub 2005 Mar 17.

N-cadherin-dependent cell-cell contacts promote human saphenous vein smooth muscle cell survival.

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  • 1Bristol Heart Institute, Bristol Royal Infirmary, Bristol, UK.



Vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) apoptosis is thought to contribute to atherosclerotic plaque instability. Cadherin mediates calcium-dependent homophilic cell-cell contact. We studied the role of N-cadherin in VSMC apoptosis.


Human saphenous vein VSMCs were grown in agarose-coated wells to allow cadherin-mediated aggregate formation. Cell death and apoptosis were determined after disruption of cadherins using several approaches (n> or =3 per approach). Calcium removal from culture medium or addition of nonspecific cadherin antagonist peptides significantly decreased aggregate formation and increased cell death by apoptosis (34+/-6% versus 75+/-1% and 19+/-1% versus 40+/-5%, respectively; P<0.05). Specific inhibition of N-cadherin using antagonists and neutralizing antibodies similarly increased apoptosis. Supporting this, overexpression of full-length N-cadherin significantly reduced VSMC apoptosis from 44+/-10% to 20+/-3% (P<0.05), whereas abolishing N-cadherin expression by overexpression of a dominant-negative N-cadherin significantly, even in the presence of cell-matrix contacts, increased apoptosis from 9+/-2% to 50+/-1% (P<0.05). Interestingly, cell-cell contacts provided a similar degree of protection from apoptosis to cell-matrix contacts. Finally, N-cadherin-mediated cell-cell contacts initiated anti-apoptotic signaling by increasing Akt and Bad phosphorylation.


Our results indicate that VSMC survival is dependent on N-cadherin-mediated cell-cell contacts, which could be important in the context of plaque instability.

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