Williams syndrome is characterized by obstructive aortopathy attributable to heterozygous loss of ELN, the gene encoding elastin. Lesions are thought to result primarily from excessive smooth muscle cell (SMC) proliferation and consequent medial expansion, although an initially smaller caliber and increased stiffness of the aorta may contribute to luminal narrowing. The relative contributions of such abnormalities to the obstructive phenotype had not been defined.Approach and Results—
We quantified determinants of luminal stenosis in thoracic aortas of Eln−/− mice incompletely rescued by human ELN. Moderate obstruction was largely because of deficient circumferential growth, most prominently of ascending segments, despite increased axial growth. Medial thickening was evident in these smaller diameter elastin-deficient aortas, with medial area similar to that of larger diameter control aortas. There was no difference in cross-sectional SMC number between mutant and wild-type genotypes at multiple stages of postnatal development. Decreased elastin content was associated with medial fibrosis and reduced aortic distensibility because of increased structural stiffness but preserved material stiffness. Elastin-deficient SMCs exhibited greater contractile-to-proliferative phenotypic modulation in vitro than in vivo. We confirmed increased medial collagen without evidence of increased medial area or SMC number in a small ascending aorta with thickened media of a Williams syndrome subject.Conclusions—
Deficient circumferential growth is the predominant mechanism for moderate obstructive aortic disease resulting from partial elastin deficiency. Our findings suggest that diverse aortic manifestations in Williams syndrome result from graded elastin content, and SMC hyperplasia causing medial expansion requires additional elastin loss superimposed on ELN haploinsufficiency.