Mining the Stiffness-Sensitive Transcriptome in Human Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells Identifies Long Noncoding RNA Stiffness Regulators

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Abstract

Objective—

Vascular extracellular matrix stiffening is a risk factor for aortic and coronary artery disease. How matrix stiffening regulates the transcriptome profile of human aortic and coronary vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) is not well understood. Furthermore, the role of long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) in the cellular response to stiffening has never been explored. This study characterizes the stiffness-sensitive (SS) transcriptome of human aortic and coronary VSMCs and identifies potential key lncRNA regulators of stiffness-dependent VSMC functions.

Approach and Results—

Aortic and coronary VSMCs were cultured on hydrogel substrates mimicking physiological and pathological extracellular matrix stiffness. Total RNAseq was performed to compare the SS transcriptome profiles of aortic and coronary VSMCs. We identified 3098 genes (2842 protein coding and 157 lncRNA) that were stiffness sensitive in both aortic and coronary VSMCs (false discovery rate <1%). Hierarchical clustering revealed that aortic and coronary VSMCs grouped by stiffness rather than cell origin. Conservation analyses also revealed that SS genes were more conserved than stiffness-insensitive genes. These VSMC SS genes were less tissue-type specific and expressed in more tissues than stiffness-insensitive genes. Using unbiased systems analyses, we identified MALAT1 as an SS lncRNA that regulates stiffness-dependent VSMC proliferation and migration in vitro and in vivo.

Conclusions—

This study provides the transcriptomic landscape of human aortic and coronary VSMCs in response to extracellular matrix stiffness and identifies novel SS human lncRNAs. Our data suggest that the SS transcriptome is evolutionarily important to VSMCs function and that SS lncRNAs can act as regulators of stiffness-dependent phenotypes.

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