Our study of vascular smooth muscle cell heterogeneity using single-cell transcriptomics and lineage tracing is finally out! Co-led by our group’s Lina Dobnikar and Annabel Taylor fro Helle Jørgensen’s lab at Cambridge University.
Vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) from are interesting for at least two reasons: (1) they originate from at least two different embryonic layers, depending on location and (2) in response to inflammation or injury, they lose their muscle cell phenotype and turn into migrating, proliferating fibroblast-like ‘synthetic’ cells.
We found that VSMCs homogeneously bear the footprints of their embryonic origins, but are heterogeneous with respect to other expressed genes. In particular, we found a rare VSMC subpopulation in healthy vessels that express a transcriptional signature (including progenitor marker Sca1) that is prevalent in vascular disease and potentially defines cells in the process of switching to the synthetic state.
Notably, Helle previously showed that only a small proportion of VSMCs expand in response to injury, so being able to catch cells ‘in the act’ of switching may help to understand ‘what makes them tick’.
Link to paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-06891-x.
Link to press release: https://www.babraham.ac.uk/news/2018/11/observation-of-blood-vessel-cells-changes-could-lead-to-early-detection-of-blocked-arteries.