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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Jan 23;93(2):900-5.

Restricted expression of homeobox genes distinguishes fetal from adult human smooth muscle cells.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston 77030, USA.


Smooth muscle cell plasticity is considered a prerequisite for atherosclerosis and restenosis following angioplasty and bypass surgery. Identification of transcription factors that specify one smooth muscle cell phenotype over another therefore may be of major importance in understanding the molecular basis of these vascular disorders. Homeobox genes exemplify one class of transcription factors that could govern smooth muscle cell phenotypic diversity. Accordingly, we screened adult and fetal human smooth muscle cell cDNA libraries with a degenerate oligonucleotide corresponding to a highly conserved region of the homeodomain with the idea that homeobox genes, if present, would display a smooth muscle cell phenotype-dependent pattern of expression. No homeobox genes were detected in the adult human smooth muscle cell library; however, five nonparalogous homeobox genes were uncovered from the fetal library (HoxA5, HoxA11, HoxB1, HoxB7, and HoxC9). Northern blotting of adult and fetal tissues revealed low and restricted expression of all five homeobox genes. No significant differences in transcripts of HoxA5, HoxA11, and HoxB1 were detected between adult or fetal human smooth muscle cells in culture. HoxB7 and HoxC9, however, showed preferential mRNA expression in fetal human smooth muscle cells that appeared to correlate with the age of the donor. This phenotype-dependent expression of homeobox genes was also noted in rat pup versus adult smooth muscle cells. While similar differences in gene expression have been reported between subsets of smooth muscle cells from rat vessels of different-aged animals or clones of rat smooth muscle, our findings represent a demonstration of a transcription factor distinguishing two human smooth muscle cell phenotypes.

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