Cooperative Interactions Between RB and p53 Regulate Cell Proliferation, Cell Senescence, and Apoptosis in Human Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells From Atherosclerotic Plaques

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Compared with vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) from normal vessels, VSMCs from human atherosclerotic plaques proliferate more slowly, undergo earlier senescence, and demonstrate higher levels of apoptosis in culture. The tumor suppressor genes p105RB (retinoblastoma, acting through the E2F transcription factor family) and p53 regulate cell proliferation, cell senescence, and apoptosis in many cell types. We have therefore determined whether these stable growth properties of plaque VSMCs reflect altered activity of RB and/or p53. VSMCs were derived from coronary atherectomies or from normal coronary arteries from transplant recipients. Compared with normal VSMCs, plaque VSMCs showed a higher ratio of the active (hypophosphorylated) to the inactive (phosphorylated) from of RB and a lower level of E2F transcriptional activity. Cells were stably transfected with retrovirus constructs that inhibited RB or p53 alone or in combination. Suppression of RB alone increased rates of cell proliferation and apoptosis and inhibited cell senescence in normal VSMCs. Suppression of p53 and RB together had similar effects but, additionally, resulted in immortalization of normal VSMC cultures. In contrast, inhibition of RB binding to E2F or ectopic expression of E2F-1 in plaque VSMCs induced massive apoptosis, which required suppression of p53 to rescue cells. Suppression of RB and p53 together increased cell proliferation and delayed senescence but failed to immortalize plaque VSMCs. Inhibition of p53 alone had minimal effects on plaque VSMCs but increased the lifespan of normal VSMCs. We conclude that human plaque VSMCs have slower rates of cell proliferation and earlier senescence than do cells from normal vessels because of a defect in phosphorylation of RB. Furthermore, both disruption of RB/E2F and inhibition of p53 are required for plaque VSMCs to proliferate without apoptosis. This observation may explain the relatively low level of cell proliferation and high level of apoptosis seen in VSMCs in human atherosclerotic plaques. (Circ Res. 1998;82:704-712.)

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