Activation of alpha1A-adrenergic receptor promotes differentiation of rat-1 fibroblasts to a smooth muscle-like phenotype

BMC Cell Biol. 2004 Dec 16;5(1):47. doi: 10.1186/1471-2121-5-47.


Background: Fibroblasts, as connective tissue cells, are able to transform into another cell type including smooth muscle cells. alpha1A-adrenergic receptor (alpha1A-AR) stimulation in rat-1 fibroblasts is coupled to cAMP production. However, the significance of an increase in cAMP produced by alpha1A-AR stimulation on proliferation, hypertrophy and differentiation in these cells is not known.

Results: Activation of the alpha1A-AR in rat-1 fibroblasts by phenylephrine (PE) inhibited DNA synthesis by 67% and blocked the re-entry of 81% of the cells into S phase of the cell cycle. This cell cycle blockage was associated with hypertrophy characterized by an increase in protein synthesis (64%) and cell size. Elevation of cAMP levels decreased both DNA and protein synthesis. Inhibition of adenylyl cyclase or protein kinase A reversed the antiproliferative effect of cAMP analogs but not PE; the hypertrophic effect of PE was also not altered. The functional response of rat-1 cells to PE was accompanied by increased expression of cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk) inhibitors p27kip1 and p21cip1/waf1, which function as negative regulators of the cell cycle. Stimulation of alpha1A-AR also upregulated the cell cycle regulatory proteins pRb, cyclin D1, Cdk 2, Cdk 4, and proliferating cell nuclear antigen. The antiproliferative effect of PE was blocked by p27kip1 antisense but not sense oligonucleotide. PE also promoted expression of smooth muscle cell differentiation markers (smooth muscle alpha actin, caldesmon, and myosin heavy chain) as well as the muscle development marker MyoD.

Conclusions: Stimulation of alpha1A-AR promotes cell cycle arrest, hypertrophy and differentiation of rat-1 fibroblasts into smooth muscle-like cells and expression of negative cell cycle regulators by a mechanism independent of the cAMP/PKA signaling pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Enlargement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cyclic AMP / biosynthesis
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / cytology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Muscle, Smooth / cytology*
  • Phenylephrine / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-1 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-1 / physiology
  • S Phase
  • Transfection


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-1
  • Phenylephrine
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases