Kalirin is a multifunctional protein that contains 2 guanine nucleotide exchange factor domains for the GTPases Rac1 and RhoA. Variants of KALRN have been associated with atherosclerosis in humans, but Kalirin’s activity has been characterized almost exclusively in the central nervous system. We therefore tested the hypothesis that Kalirin functions as a Rho-guanine nucleotide exchange factor in arterial smooth muscle cells (SMCs).Approach and Results—
Kalirin-9 protein is expressed abundantly in aorta and bone marrow, as well as in cultured SMCs, endothelial cells, and macrophages. Moreover, arterial Kalirin was upregulated during early atherogenesis in apolipoprotein E-deficient mice. In cultured SMCs, signaling was affected similarly in 3 models of Kalirin loss-of-function: heterozygous Kalrn deletion, Kalirin RNAi, and treatment with the Kalirin Rho-guanine nucleotide exchange factor -1 inhibitor 1-(3-nitrophenyl)-1H-pyrrole-2,5-dione. With reduced Kalirin function, SMCs showed normal RhoA activation but diminished Rac1 activation, assessed as reduced Rac-GTP levels, p21-activated kinase autophosphorylation, and SMC migration. Kalrn–/+ SMCs proliferated 30% less rapidly than wild-type SMCs. Neointimal hyperplasia engendered by carotid endothelial denudation was ≈60% less in Kalrn–/+ and SMC-specific Kalrn–/+ mice than in control mice.Conclusion—
Kalirin functions as a guanine nucleotide exchange factor for Rac1 in SMCs, and promotes SMC migration and proliferation both in vitro and in vivo.