Programming smooth muscle plasticity with chromatin dynamics

Oliver G. McDonald, Gary K. Owens

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


Smooth muscle cells (SMCs) possess remarkable phenotypic plasticity that allows rapid adaptation to fluctuating environmental cues. For example, vascular SMCs undergo profound changes in their phenotype during neointimal formation in response to vessel injury or within atherosclerotic plaques. Recent studies have shown that interaction of serum response factor (SRF) and its numerous accessory cofactors with CArG box DNA sequences within promoter chromatin of SMC genes is a nexus for integrating signals that influence SMC differentiation in development and disease. During development, SMC-restricted sets of posttranslational histone modifications are acquired within the CArG box chromatin of SMC genes. These modifications in turn control the chromatin-binding properties of SRF. The histone modifications appear to encode a SMC-specific epigenetic program that is used by extracellular cues to influence SMC differentiation, by regulating binding of SRF and its partners to the chromatin template. Thus, SMC differentiation is dynamically regulated by the interplay between SRF accessory cofactors, the SRF-CArG interaction, and the underlying histone modification program. As such, the inherent plasticity of the SMC lineage offers unique glimpses into how cellular differentiation is dynamically controlled at the level of chromatin within the context of changing microenvironments. Further elucidation of how chromatin regulates SMC differentiation will undoubtedly yield valuable insights into both normal developmental processes and the pathogenesis of several vascular diseases that display detrimental SMC phenotypic behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1428-1441
Number of pages14
JournalCirculation research
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Chromatin
  • Histone modifications
  • Myocardin
  • Serum response factor (SRF)
  • Smooth muscle cells (SMCs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Programming smooth muscle plasticity with chromatin dynamics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this