Cerebral Cavernous Malformations Develop Through Clonal Expansion of Mutant Endothelial Cells

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Abstract

Rationale:

Vascular malformations arise in vessels throughout the entire body. Causative genetic mutations have been identified for many of these diseases; however, little is known about the mutant cell lineage within these malformations.

Objective:

We utilize an inducible mouse model of cerebral cavernous malformations (CCMs) coupled with a multicolor fluorescent reporter to visualize the contribution of mutant endothelial cells (ECs) to the malformation.

Methods and Results:

We combined a Ccm3 mouse model with the confetti fluorescent reporter to simultaneously delete Ccm3 and label the mutant EC with 1 of 4 possible colors. We acquired Z-series confocal images from serial brain sections and created 3-dimensional reconstructions of entire CCMs to visualize mutant ECs during CCM development. We observed a pronounced pattern of CCMs lined with mutant ECs labeled with a single confetti color (n=42). The close 3-dimensional distribution, as determined by the nearest neighbor analysis, of the clonally dominant ECs within the CCM was statistically different than the background confetti labeling of ECs in non-CCM control brain slices as well as a computer simulation (P<0.001). Many of the small (<100 μm diameter) CCMs consisted, almost exclusively, of the clonally dominant mutant ECs labeled with the same confetti color, whereas the large (>100 μm diameter) CCMs contained both the clonally dominant mutant cells and wild-type ECs. We propose of model of CCM development in which an EC acquires a second somatic mutation, undergoes clonal expansion to initiate CCM formation, and then incorporates neighboring wild-type ECs to increase the size of the malformation.

Conclusions:

This is the first study to visualize, with single-cell resolution, the clonal expansion of mutant ECs within CCMs. The incorporation of wild-type ECs into the growing malformation presents another series of cellular events whose elucidation would enhance our understanding of CCMs and may provide novel therapeutic opportunities.

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