Smooth muscle cells differentiated from mesenchymal stem cells are regulated by microRNAs and suitable for vascular tissue grafts

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Tissue-engineered vascular grafts with long-term patency are greatly needed in the clinical settings, and smooth muscle cells (SMCs) are a critical graft component. Human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are used for generating SMCs, and understanding the underlying regulatory mechanisms of the MSC-to-SMC differentiation process could improve SMC generation in the clinic. Here, we found that in response to stimulation of transforming growth factor-β1 (TGFβ1), human umbilical cord-derived MSCs abundantly express the SMC markers α-smooth muscle actin (αSMA), smooth muscle protein 22 (SM22), calponin, and smooth muscle myosin heavy chain (SMMHC) at both gene and protein levels. Functionally, MSC-derived SMCs displayed contracting capacity in vitro and supported vascular structure formation in the Matrigel plug assay in vivo More importantly, SMCs differentiated from human MSCs could migrate into decellularized mouse aorta and give rise to the smooth muscle layer of vascular grafts, indicating the potential of utilizing human MSC-derived SMCs to generate vascular grafts. Of note, microRNA (miR) array analysis and TaqMan microRNA assays identified miR-503 and miR-222-5p as potential regulators of MSC differentiation into SMCs at early time points. Mechanistically, miR-503 promoted SMC differentiation by directly targeting SMAD7, a suppressor of SMAD-related, TGFβ1-mediated signaling pathways. Moreover, miR-503 expression was SMAD4-dependent. SMAD4 was enriched at the miR-503 promoter. Furthermore, miR-222-5p inhibited SMC differentiation by targeting and down-regulating ROCK2 and αSMA. In conclusion, MSC differentiation into SMCs is regulated by miR-503 and miR-222-5p and yields functional SMCs for use in vascular grafts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6169474
Pages (from-to)8089-8102
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number21
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Apr 2018


  • cell differentiation
  • mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)
  • microRNA mechanism
  • tissue engineering
  • transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta)
  • umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells
  • vascular smooth muscle cells


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