Drebrin attenuates atherosclerosis by limiting smooth muscle cell transdifferentiation.



The F-actin-binding protein Drebrin inhibits smooth muscle cell (SMC) migration, proliferation and pro-inflammatory signaling. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that Drebrin constrains atherosclerosis.

Methods and results

SM22-Cre+/Dbnflox/flox/Ldlr-/- (SMC-Dbn-/-/Ldlr-/-) and control mice (SM22-Cre+/Ldlr-/-, Dbnflox/flox/Ldlr-/-, and Ldlr-/-) were fed a Western diet for 14-20 weeks. Brachiocephalic arteries of SMC-Dbn-/-/Ldlr-/- mice exhibited 1.5- or 1.8-fold greater cross-sectional lesion area than control mice at 14 or 20 wk, respectively. Aortic atherosclerotic lesion surface area was 1.2-fold greater in SMC-Dbn-/-/Ldlr-/- mice. SMC-Dbn-/-/Ldlr-/- lesions comprised necrotic cores that were two-fold greater in size than those of control mice. Consistent with their bigger necrotic core size, lesions in SMC-Dbn-/- arteries also showed more transdifferentiation of SMCs to macrophage-like cells: 1.5- to 2.5-fold greater, assessed with BODIPY or with CD68, respectively. In vitro data were concordant: Dbn-/- SMCs had 1.7-fold higher levels of KLF4 and transdifferentiated to macrophage-like cells more readily than Dbnflox/flox SMCs upon cholesterol loading, as evidenced by greater up-regulation of CD68 and galectin-3. Adenovirally mediated Drebrin rescue produced equivalent levels of macrophage-like transdifferentiation in Dbn-/- and Dbnflox/flox SMCs. During early atherogenesis, SMC-Dbn-/-/Ldlr-/- aortas demonstrated 1.6-fold higher levels of reactive oxygen species than control mouse aortas. The 1.8-fold higher levels of Nox1 in Dbn-/- SMCs was reduced to WT levels with KLF4 silencing. Inhibition of Nox1 chemically or with siRNA produced equivalent levels of macrophage-like transdifferentiation in Dbn-/- and Dbnflox/flox SMCs.


We conclude that SMC Drebrin limits atherosclerosis by constraining SMC Nox1 activity and SMC transdifferentiation to macrophage-like cells.

Translational perspective

Drebrin is abundantly expressed in vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) and is up-regulated in human atherosclerosis. A hallmark of atherosclerosis is the accumulation of foam cells that secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines and contribute to plaque instability. A large proportion of these foam cells in humans derive from SMCs. We found that SMC Drebrin limits atherosclerosis by reducing SMC transdifferentiation to macrophage-like foam cells in a manner dependent on Nox1 and KLF4. For this reason, strategies aimed at augmenting SMC Drebrin expression in atherosclerotic plaques may limit atherosclerosis progression and enhance plaque stability by bridling SMC-to-foam-cell transdifferentiation.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Wu, Jiao-Hui, Lisheng Zhang, Igor Nepliouev, Leigh Brian, Taiqin Huang, Kamie P Snow, Brandon M Schickling, Elizabeth R Hauser, et al. (2021). Drebrin attenuates atherosclerosis by limiting smooth muscle cell transdifferentiation. Cardiovascular research. 10.1093/cvr/cvab156 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23419.

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Lisheng Zhang

Assistant Professor in Medicine

My research efforts involves studying the pathogenesis of vein graft neointimal hyperplasia and atherosclerosis.
The greatest amount of my time in the past years has been devoted to developing and characterizing our interposition vein graft model in mice. This model allows us to use IVC to carotid artery transplants between congenic mice. These transplants allow us to ask the questions about which gene products contribute to the pathogenesis of vein graft disease. In addition, I have used carotid artery to carotid artery transplants to study the role of TNF receptors in atherosclerosis. For these studies, we have used apolipoprotein E-deficient mice as graft recipients.
By using mouse vein graft model we demonstrate that most of the neointimal cells in vein grafts originate from cellular pools outside of the vein graft at the time of its implantation. The importance of this work relates to our persistent inability to treat vein graft disease in human beings. The second work demonstrates that expression of the tumor necrosis factor receptor-1, even in just in the vein graft cells themselves, contributes to the pathogenesis of vein graft neointimal hyperplasia. In this project, I surgically created chimeric mice to demonstrate molecular mechanisms by which the tumor necrosis factor receptor-1 aggravates neointimal hyperplasia, a process that is believed to lay the foundation for accelerated atherosclerosis in vein grafts.
I have also adapted my vein graft procedure in mice to ask questions about the arterial wall’s role in atherosclerosis. This atherosclerosis model involves making carotid interposition grafts not with veins, but with the carotid artery of congenic mice, and placing them into the carotid artery of spontaneously atherogenic mice that are deficient in apolipoprotein E.
I plan to continue our studies related to the role of inflammatory cytokine receptors in neointimal hyperplasia and atherosclerosis. In addition, I envision extending this work with the surgical models I have created in mice.


Francis Joseph Miller

Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine

The central goal of my research program is to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms that contribute to the generation of reactive oxygen species and pathophysiology of vascular disease. I am an internationally recognized expert in NADPH oxidases and detection of reactive oxygen species in blood vessels and vascular cells. As a practicing cardiologist, I strive to integrate research findings across the spectrum of molecular mechanisms to cultured cells to animal models to human disease. A secondary focus utilizes the selectivity of RNA aptamers for therapeutic targeting.


Neil Jonathan Freedman

Professor of Medicine

Our work focuses on atherosclerosis-related signal transduction and the genetic bases of atherosclerosis and vein graft failure, both in vitro and in vivo. We investigate the regulation of receptor protein tyrosine kinases by G protein-coupled receptor kinases (GRKs), and the role of GRKs and β-arrestins in atherosclerosis; the role of tumor necrosis factor and its receptors in atherosclerosis; and the role of the dual Rho-GEF kalirin in atherosclerosis. For in vivo modeling of atherosclerosis and neointimal hyperplasia, we use mouse carotid artery bypass grafting with either veins or arteries from gene-deleted or congenic wild type mice, as well as aortic atherosclerosis studies and bone marrow transplantation. To study receptor phosphorylation, signal transduction, and intracellular trafficking, we employ primary smooth muscle cells, endothelial cells, and macrophages derived from knockout mice or treated with RNA interference.

Key Words: atherosclerosis, G protein-coupled receptor kinases, arrestins, desensitization, phosphorylation, platelet-derived growth factor receptors, receptor protein tyrosine kinases, smooth muscle cells, neointimal hyperplasia, Rho-GEF.

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