Vascular smooth muscle cells for use in vascular tissue engineering obtained by endothelial-to-mesenchymal transdifferentiation (EnMT) on collagen matrices

Biomaterials. 2008 Sep;29(27):3703-11. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2008.05.034. Epub 2008 Jun 16.


The discovery of the endothelial progenitor cell (EPC) has led to an intensive research effort into progenitor cell-based tissue engineering of (small-diameter) blood vessels. Herein, EPC are differentiated to vascular endothelial cells and serve as the inner lining of bioartificial vessels. As yet, a reliable source of vascular smooth muscle progenitor cells has not been identified. Currently, smooth muscle cells (SMC) are obtained from vascular tissue biopsies and introduce new vascular pathologies to the patient. However, since SMC are mesenchymal cells, endothelial-to-mesenchymal transdifferentiation (EnMT) may be a novel source of SMC. Here we describe the differentiation of smooth muscle-like cells through EnMT. Human umbilical cord endothelial cells (HUVEC) were cultured either under conditions favoring endothelial cell growth or under conditions favoring mesenchymal differentiation (TGF-beta and PDGF-BB). Expression of smooth muscle protein 22alpha and alpha-smooth muscle actin was induced in HUVEC cultured in mesenchymal differentiation media, whereas hardly any expression of these markers was found on genuine HUVEC. Transdifferentiated endothelial cells lost the ability to prevent thrombin formation in an in vitro coagulation assay, had increased migratory capacity towards PDGF-BB and gained contractile behavior similar to genuine vascular smooth muscle cells. Furthermore, we showed that EnMT could be induced in three-dimensional (3D) collagen sponges. In conclusion, we show that HUVEC can efficiently transdifferentiate into smooth muscle-like cells through endothelial-to-mesenchymal transdifferentiation. Therefore, EnMT might be used in future progenitor cell-based vascular tissue engineering approaches to obtain vascular smooth muscle cells, and circumvent a number of limitations encountered in current vascular tissue engineering strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Transdifferentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Collagen*
  • DNA Primers
  • Endothelium, Vascular / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Mesoderm / cytology*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / cytology*
  • Tissue Engineering*


  • DNA Primers
  • Collagen