Background and Purpose
CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy) is a genetic disorder hallmarked by ischemic stroke and vascular dementia. Characteristic pathological changes in the vasculature include thickening of small arteries and accumulation of heterogeneous material within the vessel wall. We tested whether endothelial von Willebrand factor (vWF) accumulates in CADASIL vessels and whether exposure of smooth muscle cells to vWF alters the expression of smooth muscle gene expression.
Brain sections obtained at autopsy from six North American CADASIL patients were examined using immunohistochemistry for vWF and IgG. Rat aortic smooth muscle cells (A7R5 cells) were tested for binding to infrared-tag labeled vWF. Finally, A7R5 cells were exposed to vWF, and expression of mature smooth muscle marker genes was analyzed by quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR.
vWF is expressed in the penetrating arterial walls in all CADASIL samples. IgG, a marker of serum extravasation, was present only in a minority of arterial walls. vWF binds to smooth muscle cells in vitro, and low concentrations of vWF rapidly activate c-fos, EGR, TSP1, and c-myc while specifically inhibiting RNA encoding smooth muscle actin, calponin, and SM22.
These data demonstrate that vWF, likely produced by the endothelium, permeates the vessel wall of CADASIL brains. Exposure of smooth muscle cells to vWF results in reduction of specific RNAs required for normal vascular homeostasis. This is the first report of accumulation of a protein within CADASIL vessels that inhibits vascular gene expression and implicates a role for vWF beyond hemostasis.