Smooth muscle actin isoforms: a tug of war between contraction and compliance

Eur J Cell Biol. 2013 Jun-Jul;92(6-7):187-200. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcb.2013.06.002. Epub 2013 Jul 11.


In higher vertebrates, smooth muscle (SM) contains two tissue-specific actin isoforms: α-SMA and γ-SMA, which predominate in vascular and visceral SM, respectively. Whether α-SMA has been extensively studied and recognized for its contractile activity in SM and SM-like cells such as myofibroblasts, myoepithelial and myoid cells, the distribution and role of γ-SMA remained largely unknown. We developed a new specific monoclonal antibody against γ-SMA and confirmed that γ-SMA predominates in the visceral system and is minor in the vascular system, although more expressed in highly compliant veins than in stiff arteries. Contrary to α-SMA, γ-SMA is absent from myofibroblasts in vitro, and in fibrotic diseases in vivo. We raised the hypothesis that, whereas α-SMA is responsible for the "contractile" activity, γ-SMA would be involved in the "compliance" of SM and SM-like cells. Several models support this hypothesis, namely veins vs. arteries and the physiological modifications occurring in the uterus and mammary glands during pregnancy and lactation. Our results suggest that, in addition to enteric smooth muscles, γ-SMA is expressed in all the tissues submitted to an important dilation including veins, gravid uterus, and lactating mammary glands. The hypothesis of two complementary mechanical roles for the two SMA isoforms is sustained by their different intracellular distributions and by functional assays.

Keywords: Cytoskeleton; Dilation; Isoactins; Mammary glands; Myoepithelial cell; Myofibroblast; Myoid cell; Uterus; Vessels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / genetics
  • Actins / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Blood Vessels / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Muscle, Smooth / metabolism*
  • Organ Specificity
  • Pregnancy
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Swine
  • Uterus / metabolism


  • Actins
  • Protein Isoforms