An overview of Notch3 function in vascular smooth muscle cells

Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2008 Jan-Apr;96(1-3):499-509. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2007.07.006. Epub 2007 Jul 29.


Proteins of the Notch family are cell surface receptors that transduce signals between neighbouring cells. The Notch signalling pathway is highly evolutionarily conserved and critical for cell fate determination during embryonic development, including many aspects of vascular development. The interaction of Notch receptors with ligands leads to cleavage of the Notch intracellular domain (NICD) which then translocates to the nucleus and activates the transcription factor CBF1/JBP-Jkappa, regulating downstream gene expression. To date four Notch receptors have been found in mammals. Of these, Notch3 is predominantly expressed in adult arterial smooth muscle cells in human. NOTCH3 gene mutations cause the autosomal dominant condition, cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoecephelopathy (CADASIL), an inherited early stroke syndrome leading to dementia due to systemic vascular degeneration. This suggests that Notch3 plays a critical role in maintaining the phenotypic stability of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). Recent publications indicate that Notch3 is involved in vascular injury and is a determinant of VSMC survival, but its exact function is unknown. The molecular mechanisms underlying CADASIL pathology are therefore intriguing. Investigation of CADASIL mutant Notch3 shows that the majority of mutations do not change CBF1/JBP-Jkappa mediated classic Notch activation, so the pathological consequences of NOTCH3 mutations in CADASIL patients can not be simply explained by loss- or gain-of-function in the classic Notch signalling pathway. This suggests that a novel Notch3-mediated signalling pathway may be present in VSMCs, or cross-regulation of Notch3 to other signalling pathway(s) may play a critical role on VSMCs survival. Alternatively, the mutant Notch3 may gain a novel or toxic function in VSMCs. This review will focus on recent findings of Notch3 in vascular development and in regulating the VSMC behaviour and phenotype, and will use findings on investigating the molecular pathology of the single gene disorder CADASIL to understand the function of Notch3 in VSMCs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / cytology
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / physiology*
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / physiology*
  • Receptor, Notch3
  • Receptors, Notch / physiology*


  • NOTCH3 protein, human
  • Receptor, Notch3
  • Receptors, Notch