Contractile reprogramming of cardiac pericytes by MEK inhibition promotes arteriologenesis of the ischemic heart
Background: The development of collateral arteries after a myocardial infarction (MI) was intensively studied, while the mechanism by which pericytes (PCs) contribute to arteriologenesis remains unexplored. This study aimed to 1) investigate if cardiac PCs gain functional features of contractile vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) in vitro, and 2) determine if this potential can be evoked pharmacologically to encourage heart arteriologenesis in vivo. Methods: PCs were immunosorted as CD31neg/CD34pos cells from human and mouse hearts. Contractile reprogramming was induced by either depletion of growth factors or addition of PD0325901, a clinically available MEK inhibitor. Next-generation RNA-Sequencing was performed in naive and differentiated human PCs to assess the whole-transcriptome profile. Three in vivo studies were conducted in C57BL6/J mice to determine: 1) the ability of human PCs to promote arteriole formation when implanted subcutaneously within PD0325901-containing Matrigel plugs, 2) the effect of orally administered PD0325901 on the arteriole density of normoperfused hearts, and 3) the possibility of promoting capillary formation and muscularization of the infarcted heart through the same pharmacological approach. Results: Removal of epidermal growth factor (EGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) from the culture medium induced the differentiation of PCs into contractile VSMC-like cells. Because both growth factors induce the extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) signalling, we attempted to induce PC differentiation in vitro and in vivo using PD0325901. RNA-sequencing revealed that differentiated PCs were enriched in transcripts associated with smooth muscle contraction and biological function. PD0325901-treated PCs rapidly acquired antigenic and functional features of contractile VSMCs in vitro. Moreover, human PCs formed new arterioles when implanted subcutaneously within PD0325901-containing Matrigel plugs in mice. Oral administration of PD0325901 for two weeks increased the density and expression of contractile proteins in small-calibre arterioles of the murine heart, thereby increasing myocardial perfusion. Similarly, PD0325901 induced reparative arteriologenesis and capillarization, reduced the scar, and improved left ventricular performance in a murine model of MI. Conclusion: We propose a novel method to promote the heart vascularization through the pharmacological modulation of resident mural cells. This novel approach could have an immediate impact on the treatment of coronary artery disease. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
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