Identification of Small Proline-Rich Repeat Protein 3 as a Novel Atheroprotective Factor That Promotes Adaptive Akt Signaling in Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells
Objective—Atherosclerosis is the primary driver of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death worldwide. Identification of naturally occurring atheroprotective genes has become a major goal for the development of interventions that will limit atheroma progression and associated adverse events. To this end, we have identified small proline-rich repeat protein (SPRR3) as selectively upregulated in vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) of atheroma-bearing arterial tissue versus healthy arterial tissue. In this study, we sought to determine the role of SPRR3 in atheroma pathophysiology.
Approach and Results—We found that atheroprone apolipoprotein E-null mice lacking SPRR3 developed significantly greater atheroma burden. To determine the cellular driver(s) of this increase, we evaluated SPRR3-dependent changes in bone marrow–derived cells, endothelial cells, and VSMCs. Bone marrow transplant of SPRR3-expressing cells into SPRR3−/−apolipoprotein E–deficient recipients failed to rescue atheroma burden. Similarly, endothelial cells did not exhibit a response to SPRR3 loss. However, atheromas from SPRR3-deficient mice exhibited increased TUNEL-positive VSMCs compared with control. Cell death in SPRR3-deficient VSMCs was significantly increased in vitro. Conversely, SPRR3-overexpressing VSMCs exhibited reduced apoptosis compared with control. We also observed a PI3K/Akt-dependent positive association between SPRR3 expression and levels of active Akt in VSMCs. The survival advantage seen in SPRR3-overexpressing VSMCs was abrogated after the addition of a PI3K/Akt pathway inhibitor.
Conclusions—These results indicate that SPRR3 protects the lesion from VSMC loss by promoting survival signaling in plaque VSMCs, thereby significantly decreasing atherosclerosis progression. As the first identified atheroma-specific VSMC prosurvival factor, SPRR3 represents a potential target for lesion-specific modulation of VSMC survival.
- Received March 13, 2014.
- Accepted September 16, 2014.
- © 2014 American Heart Association, Inc.