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J Vasc Res. 2012;49(1):59-64. doi: 10.1159/000329681. Epub 2011 Oct 10.

Replicative aging induces endothelial to mesenchymal transition in human aortic endothelial cells: potential role of inflammation.

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Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo. 80309, USA. bradley.fleenor @


Thickening of the intimal layer of arteries characterized by expression of smooth muscle α-actin (SMαA), collagen deposition, and inflammation is an important pathophysiological change with aging assumed to be mediated by smooth muscle cells migrating from the medial layer. We tested the novel hypothesis that these characteristics could also reflect an endothelial-mesenchymal (smooth muscle-like) transition (EnMT). Late ('old') compared with early ('young') passage (45.0 ± 1.2 vs. 27.1 ± 0.5 population doublings) human aortic endothelial cells demonstrated greater smooth muscle (spindle) morphological changes, expression of SMαA and collagen I, nuclear factor-κB activation, and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) (all p < 0.05). Based on increases in SMαA, stimulation with the proinflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor-α, but not with TGF-β, induced EnMT in early passage cells similar to that observed in late passage cells. Here, we present the first evidence for EnMT induced in a model of endothelial cell aging and provide support for proinflammatory signaling in mediating this phenotypic change.

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