Vascular smooth muscle cell (SMC) phenotypic switching is widely recognized as a key mechanism responsible for the pathogenesis of several aortic diseases, such as aortic aneurysm. Cellular communication network factor 2 (CCN2), often upregulated in human pathologies and animal disease models, exerts myriad context-dependent biological functions. However, current understanding of the role of SMC-CCN2 in SMC phenotypic switching and its function in the pathology of abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is lacking. Here, we show that SMC-restricted CCN2 deficiency causes AAA in the infrarenal aorta of angiotensin II–infused (Ang II–infused) hypercholesterolemic mice at a similar anatomic location to human AAA. Notably, the resistance of naive C57BL/6 WT mice to Ang II–induced AAA formation is lost upon silencing of CCN2 in SMC. Furthermore, the pro-AAA phenotype of SMC-CCN2-KO mice is recapitulated in a different model that involves the application of elastase–β-aminopropionitrile. Mechanistically, our findings reveal that CCN2 intersects with TGF-β signaling and regulates SMC marker expression. Deficiency of CCN2 triggers SMC reprograming associated with alterations in Krüppel-like factor 4 and contractile marker expression, and this reprograming likely contributes to the development of AAA in mice. These results identify SMC-CCN2 as potentially a novel regulator of SMC phenotypic switching and AA biology.
Yu Wang, Xuesong Liu, Qian Xu, Wei Xu, Xianming Zhou, Zhiyong Lin