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Therapeutic MK2 inhibition blocks pathological vascular smooth muscle cell phenotype switch


Tierney JWJ William , Evans BCBrian C , Cheung-Flynn JJoyce , Wang BBo , Colazo JMJuan M , Polcz MEMonica E , Cook RSRebecca S , Brophy CMColleen M , Duvall CLCraig L . JCI insight. 2021 10 8; 6(19).


Vascular procedures, such as stenting, angioplasty, and bypass grafting, often fail due to intimal hyperplasia (IH), wherein contractile vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) dedifferentiate to synthetic VSMCs, which are highly proliferative, migratory, and fibrotic. Previous studies suggest MAPK-activated protein kinase 2 (MK2) inhibition may limit VSMC proliferation and IH, although the molecular mechanism underlying the observation remains unclear. We demonstrated here that MK2 inhibition blocked the molecular program of contractile to synthetic dedifferentiation and mitigated IH development. Molecular markers of the VSMC contractile phenotype were sustained over time in culture in rat primary VSMCs treated with potent, long-lasting MK2 inhibitory peptide nanopolyplexes (MK2i-NPs), a result supported in human saphenous vein specimens cultured ex vivo. RNA-Seq of MK2i-NP-treated primary human VSMCs revealed programmatic switching toward a contractile VSMC gene expression profile, increasing expression of antiinflammatory and contractile-associated genes while lowering expression of proinflammatory, promigratory, and synthetic phenotype-associated genes. Finally, these results were confirmed using an in vivo rabbit vein graft model where brief, intraoperative treatment with MK2i-NPs decreased IH and synthetic phenotype markers while preserving contractile proteins. These results support further development of MK2i-NPs as a therapy for blocking VSMC phenotype switch and IH associated with cardiovascular procedures.