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Biophys J. 2009 Apr 22;96(8):3423-32. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2008.11.074.

Cell-shape regulation of smooth muscle cell proliferation.

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Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.


Vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) play an important role in vascular remodeling. Heterogeneity and phenotypic changes in SMCs are usually accompanied by a morphological difference, i.e., elongated/spindle-like versus spread-out or epithelioid/rhomboid cell shapes. However, it is not known whether the cell shape directly regulates SMC proliferation, and what the underlying mechanisms are. In this study, microgrooves and micropatterned matrix islands were used to engineer the cell shape and investigate the associated biophysical and biological mechanisms. Compared to spread-out SMCs on nonpatterned surfaces, SMCs on micropatterned surfaces demonstrated elongated morphology, significantly lower cell and nucleus shape indexes, less spreading, a lower proliferation rate, and a similar response (but to a lesser extent) to platelet-derived growth factor, transforming growth factor-beta, and mechanical stretching. DNA microarray profiling revealed a lower expression of neuron-derived orphan receptor-1 (NOR-1) in elongated SMCs. Knocking down NOR-1 suppressed DNA synthesis in SMCs, suggesting that NOR-1 is a mediator of cell elongation effects. Regulation of DNA synthesis in SMCs by the cell shape alone and a decrease in DNA synthesis in the case of small cell spreading area were achieved by micropatterning SMCs on matrix islands of different shapes and spreading areas. Changes in the cell shape also affected the nucleus shape, whereas variations in the cell spreading area modulated the nucleus volume, indicating a possible link between nucleus morphology (both shape and volume) and DNA synthesis. The findings of this investigation provide insight into cell shape effects on cell structure and proliferation, and have direct implications for vascular pathophysiology.

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