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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 1998 Mar;18(3):379-88.

Calcification of human vascular cells in vitro is correlated with high levels of matrix Gla protein and low levels of osteopontin expression.

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Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital, England.


The cellular and molecular events leading to calcification in atherosclerotic lesions are unknown. We and others have shown that bone-associated proteins, particularly matrix Gla protein (MGP) and osteopontin (OP), can be detected in atherosclerotic lesions, thus suggesting an active calcification process. In the present study, we aimed to determine whether human vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) could calcify in vitro and to determine whether MGP and OP have a role in vascular calcification. We established that human aortic VSMCs and placental microvascular pericytes spontaneously form nodules in cell culture and induce calcification, as detected by von Kossa's method, Alizarin red S staining, and electron microscopy. The cells in calcifying nodules differed from those in monolayer cultures by expressing higher levels of the SMC markers alpha-SM actin, SM22alpha, and calponin. In addition, Northern blot analysis revealed that in human VSMCs, calcification was associated with increased levels of MGP mRNA. In contrast, OP mRNA was barely detectable in calcified human VSMCs and pericyte nodules, nor was OP protein detected, suggesting that OP was not necessary for calcification to occur. These studies reveal that human VSMCs are capable of inducing calcification and that MGP may have a role in human vascular calcification.

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