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PAI-1 Regulates the Cytoskeleton and Intrinsic Stiffness of Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells.

BACKGROUND: Plasma concentration of PAI-1 (plasminogen activator inhibitor-1) correlates with arterial stiffness. Vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) express PAI-1, and the intrinsic stiffness of SMCs is a major determinant of total arterial stiffness. We hypothesized that PAI-1 promotes SMC stiffness by regulating the cytoskeleton and that pharmacological inhibition of PAI-1 decreases SMC and aortic stiffness.

METHODS: PAI-039, a specific inhibitor of PAI-1, and small interfering RNA were used to inhibit PAI-1 expression in cultured human SMCs. Effects of PAI-1 inhibition on SMC stiffness, F-actin (filamentous actin) content, and cytoskeleton-modulating enzymes were assessed. WT (wild-type) and PAI-1-deficient murine SMCs were used to determine PAI-039 specificity. RNA sequencing was performed to determine the effects of PAI-039 on SMC gene expression. In vivo effects of PAI-039 were assessed by aortic pulse wave velocity.

RESULTS: PAI-039 significantly reduced intrinsic stiffness of human SMCs, which was accompanied by a significant decrease in cytoplasmic F-actin content. PAI-1 gene knockdown also decreased cytoplasmic F-actin. PAI-1 inhibition significantly increased the activity of cofilin, an F-actin depolymerase, in WT murine SMCs, but not in PAI-1-deficient SMCs. RNA-sequencing analysis suggested that PAI-039 upregulates AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) signaling in SMCs, which was confirmed by Western blotting. Inhibition of AMPK prevented activation of cofilin by PAI-039. In mice, PAI-039 significantly decreased aortic stiffness and tunica media F-actin content without altering the elastin or collagen content.

CONCLUSIONS: PAI-039 decreases intrinsic SMC stiffness and cytoplasmic stress fiber content. These effects are mediated by AMPK-dependent activation of cofilin. PAI-039 also decreases aortic stiffness in vivo. These findings suggest that PAI-1 is an important regulator of the SMC cytoskeleton and that pharmacological inhibition of PAI-1 has the potential to prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases involving arterial stiffening.

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