Vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) are thought to display cellular plasticity by alternating between a quiescent ‘contractile’ differentiated phenotype and a proliferative ‘synthetic’ de-differentiated phenotype in response to induction of distinct developmental pathways or to local micro-environmental cues. This classic de-differentiation and re-programming process is associated with a significant loss in the expression of key SMC differentiation marker genes for a large number of proliferative vascular diseases in vivo and in sub-cultured cells in vitro. Regarded as essential for vascular regeneration and repair in vivo, phenotypic modulation represents a critical target for therapeutic intervention. However, recent evidence now suggests that this process of vascular regeneration may also involve differentiation of resident vascular stem cells and the accumulation of stem cell-derived myogenic, osteochondrogenic and macrophage-like phenotypes within vascular lesions in vivo and across sub-cultured SMC cell populations in vitro. This review summarises our current knowledge of vascular regeneration, de-differentiation and re-programming of vascular SMCs, and focuses on the accumulating evidence of a putative role for stem cell-derived progeny and the evolving dichotomy of the origin of SMC-like cells during intimal-medial thickening and the progression of arteriosclerotic disease.
Part of the book: Muscle Cell and Tissue