Objective: Vascular remodeling involves a highly coordinated break-down and build-up of the vascular basal lamina and inter-endothelial tight junction proteins. The goal of this study was to examine the role of matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) in remodeling of cerebral blood vessels, both in hypoxia-induced angiogenesis and in the vascular pruning that accompanies the switch from hypoxia back to normoxia.
Approach and Results: In a chronic mild hypoxia model of cerebrovascular remodeling, gel zymography revealed that MMP-9 levels were increased, both in the hypoxic angiogenic response and in the post-hypoxic pruning response. Compared to wild-type mice, MMP-9 KO mice showed no alteration in hypoxic-induced angiogenesis, but did show marked delay in post-hypoxic vascular pruning. In wild-type mice, vascular pruning was associated with fragmentation of vascular laminin and the tight junction protein claudin-5, while this process was markedly attenuated in MMP-9 KO mice. In vitro experiments showed that hypoxia stimulated MMP-9 expression in brain endothelial cells (BECs) but not pericytes. While immunofluorescent and flow cytometry analyses showed that hypoxia led to reduced expression of laminin and claudin-5 in wild-type BECs, this decrease was absent in MMP-9 KO BECs.
Conclusions: These results show that while MMP-9 is not essential for hypoxic-induced cerebral angiogenesis, it plays an important role in post-hypoxic vascular pruning by degrading laminin and claudin-5. Our data support the concept that MMP-9 inhibition might provide therapeutic benefit in the treatment of ischemic stroke, by preventing post-hypoxic vascular pruning, thereby optimizing vascular density and integrity.