We previously established that vascular smooth muscle–derived adventitial progenitor cells (AdvSca1-SM) preferentially differentiate into myofibroblasts and contribute to fibrosis in response to acute vascular injury. However, the role of these progenitor cells in chronic atherosclerosis has not been defined. Using an AdvSca1-SM cell lineage tracing model, scRNA-Seq, flow cytometry, and histological approaches, we confirmed that AdvSca1-SM–derived cells localized throughout the vessel wall and atherosclerotic plaques, where they primarily differentiated into fibroblasts, smooth muscle cells (SMC), or remained in a stem-like state. Krüppel-like factor 4 (Klf4) knockout specifically in AdvSca1-SM cells induced transition to a more collagen-enriched fibroblast phenotype compared with WT mice. Additionally, Klf4 deletion drastically modified the phenotypes of non–AdvSca1-SM–derived cells, resulting in more contractile SMC and atheroprotective macrophages. Functionally, overall plaque burden was not altered with Klf4 deletion, but multiple indices of plaque composition complexity, including necrotic core area, macrophage accumulation, and fibrous cap thickness, were reduced. Collectively, these data support that modulation of AdvSca1-SM cells through KLF4 depletion confers increased protection from the development of potentially unstable atherosclerotic plaques.
Allison M. Dubner, Sizhao Lu, Austin J. Jolly, Keith A. Strand, Marie F. Mutryn, Tyler Hinthorn, Tysen Noble, Raphael A. Nemenoff, Karen S. Moulton, Mark W. Majesky, Mary C.M. Weiser-Evans