Recent smooth muscle cell (SMC) lineage-tracing studies have revealed that SMCs undergo remarkable changes in phenotype during development of atherosclerosis. Of major interest, we demonstrated that Kruppel-like factor 4 (KLF4) in SMCs is detrimental for overall lesion pathogenesis, in that SMC-specific conditional knockout of the KLF4 gene ( Klf4) resulted in smaller, more-stable lesions that exhibited marked reductions in the numbers of SMC-derived macrophage- and mesenchymal stem cell-like cells. However, since the clinical consequences of atherosclerosis typically occur well after our reproductive years, we sought to identify beneficial KLF4-dependent SMC functions that were likely to be evolutionarily conserved. We tested the hypothesis that KLF4-dependent SMC transitions play an important role in the tissue injury-repair process. Using SMC-specific lineage-tracing mice positive and negative for simultaneous SMC-specific conditional knockout of Klf4, we demonstrate that SMCs in the remodeling heart after ischemia-reperfusion injury (IRI) express KLF4 and transition to a KLF4-dependent macrophage-like state and a KLF4-independent myofibroblast-like state. Moreover, heart failure after IRI was exacerbated in SMC Klf4 knockout mice. Surprisingly, we observed a significant cardiac dilation in SMC Klf4 knockout mice before IRI as well as a reduction in peripheral resistance. KLF4 chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing analysis on mesenteric vascular beds identified potential baseline SMC KLF4 target genes in numerous pathways, including PDGF and FGF. Moreover, microvascular tissue beds in SMC Klf4 knockout mice had gaps in lineage-traced SMC coverage along the resistance arteries and exhibited increased permeability. Together, these results provide novel evidence that Klf4 has a critical maintenance role within microvascular SMCs: it is required for normal SMC function and coverage of resistance arteries. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We report novel evidence that the Kruppel-like factor 4 gene ( Klf4) has a critical maintenance role within microvascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs). SMC-specific Klf4 knockout at baseline resulted in a loss of lineage-traced SMC coverage of resistance arteries, dilation of resistance arteries, increased blood flow, and cardiac dilation.
Keywords: Kruppel-like factor 4; lineage tracing; smooth muscle cell maintenance; smooth muscle cells.