Acquisition and maintenance of vascular smooth muscle fate are essential for the morphogenesis and function of the circulatory system. Loss of contractile properties or changes in the identity of vascular smooth muscle cells (vSMCs) can result in structural alterations associated with aneurysms and vascular wall calcification. Here we report that maturation of sclerotome-derived vSMCs depends on a transcriptional switch between mouse embryonic days 13 and 14.5. At this time, Notch/Jag1-mediated repression of sclerotome transcription factors Pax1, Scx, and Sox9 is necessary to fully enable vSMC maturation. Specifically, Notch signaling in vSMCs antagonizes sclerotome and cartilage transcription factors and promotes upregulation of contractile genes. In the absence of the Notch ligand Jag1, vSMCs acquire a chondrocytic transcriptional repertoire that can lead to ossification. Importantly, our findings suggest that sustained Notch signaling is essential throughout vSMC life to maintain contractile function, prevent vSMC reprogramming, and promote vascular wall integrity.
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