UHRF1 epigenetically orchestrates smooth muscle cell plasticity in arterial disease

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Adult vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) dedifferentiate in response to extracellular cues such as vascular damage and inflammation. Dedifferentiated VSMCs are proliferative, migratory, less contractile, and can contribute to vascular repair as well as to cardiovascular pathologies such as intimal hyperplasia/restenosis in coronary artery and arterial aneurysm. We here demonstrate the role of ubiquitin-like containing PHD and RING finger domains 1 (UHRF1) as an epigenetic master regulator of VSMC plasticity. UHRF1 expression correlated with the development of vascular pathologies associated with modulation of noncoding RNAs, such as microRNAs. miR-145 — pivotal in regulating VSMC plasticity, which is reduced in vascular diseases — was found to control Uhrf1 mRNA translation. In turn, UHRF1 triggered VSMC proliferation, directly repressing promoters of cell-cycle inhibitor genes (including p21 and p27) and key prodifferentiation genes via the methylation of DNA and histones. Local vascular viral delivery of Uhrf1 shRNAs or Uhrf1 VSMC-specific deletion prevented intimal hyperplasia in mouse carotid artery and decreased vessel damage in a mouse model of aortic aneurysm. Our study demonstrates the fundamental role of Uhrf1 in regulating VSMC phenotype by promoting proliferation and dedifferentiation. UHRF1 targeting may hold therapeutic potential in vascular pathologies.

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