C-Kit suppresses atherosclerosis in hyperlipidemic mice

Lei Song, Zachary M. Zigmond, Laisel Martinez, Roberta M. Lassance-Soares, Alejandro E. Macias, Omaida C. Velazquez, Zhao Jun Liu, Alghidak Salama, Keith A Webster, Roberto I. Vazquez-Padron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Atherosclerosis is the most common underlying cause of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality worldwide. c-Kit (CD117) is a member of the receptor tyrosine kinase family, which regulates differentiation, proliferation, and survival of multiple cell types. Recent studies have shown that c-Kit and its ligand stem cell factor (SCF) are present in arterial endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells (SMCs). The role of c-Kit in cardiovascular disease remains unclear. The aim of the current study is to determine the role of c-Kit in atherogenesis. For this purpose, atherosclerotic plaques were quantified in c-Kit-deficient mice (KitMut) after they were fed a high-fat diet (HFD) for 16 wk. KitMut mice demonstrated substantially greater atherosclerosis compared with control (KitWT) littermates (P < 0.01). Transplantation of c-Kit-positive bone marrow cells into KitMut mice failed to rescue the atherogenic phenotype, an indication that increased atherosclerosis was associated with reduced arterial c-Kit. To investigate the mechanism, SMC organization and morphology were analyzed in the aorta by histopathology and electron microscopy. SMCs were more abundant, disorganized, and vacuolated in aortas of c-Kit mutant mice compared with controls (P < 0.05). Markers of the "contractile" SMC phenotype (calponin, SM22α) were downregulated with pharmacological and genetic c-Kit inhibition (P < 0.05). The absence of c-Kit increased lipid accumulation and significantly reduced the expression of the ATP-binding cassette transporter G1 (ABCG1) necessary for lipid efflux in SMCs. Reconstitution of c-Kit in cultured KitMut SMCs resulted in increased spindle-shaped morphology, reduced proliferation, and elevated levels of contractile markers, all indicators of their restored contractile phenotype (P ≤ 0.05). NEW & NOTEWORTHY This study describes the novel vasculoprotective role of c-Kit against atherosclerosis and its function in the preservation of the SMC contractile phenotype.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H867-H876
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2019


  • Atheroma
  • Atherosclerosis
  • C-Kit
  • Mouse
  • Phenotypic switch
  • Smooth muscle cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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