Anxa1 in smooth muscle cells protects against acute aortic dissection

Cardiovasc Res. 2021 Mar 23;cvab109. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvab109. Online ahead of print.


Aims: Acute aortic dissection (AAD) is a life-threatening disease with high morbidity and mortality. Previous studies have showed that vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) phenotype switching modulates vascular function and AAD progression. However, whether an endogenous signaling system that protects AAD progression exists, remains unknown. Our aim is to investigate the role of Anxa1 in VSMC phenotype switching and the pathogenesis of AAD.

Methods and results: We first assessed Anxa1 expression levels by immunohistochemical staining in control aorta and AAD tissue from mice. A strong increase of Anxa1 expression was seen in the mouse AAD tissues. In line with these findings, micro-CT scan results indicated that Anxa1 plays a role in the development of AAD in our murine model, with systemic deficiency of Anxa1 markedly progressing AAD. Conversely, administration of Anxa1 mimetic peptide, Ac2-26, rescued the AAD phenotype in Anxa1-/- mice. Transcriptomic studies revealed a novel role for Anxa1 in VSMC phenotype switching, with Anxa1 deficiency triggering the synthetic phenotype of VSMCs via down-regulation of the JunB/MYL9 pathway. The resultant VSMC synthetic phenotype rendered elevated inflammation and enhanced matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) production, leading to augmented elastin degradation. VSMC-restricted deficiency of Anxa1 in mice phenocopied VSMC phenotype switching and the consequent exacerbation of AAD. Finally, our studies in human AAD aortic specimens recapitulated key findings in murine AAD, specifically that the decrease of Anxa1 is associated with VSMC phenotype switch, heightened inflammation, and enhanced MMP production in human aortas.

Conclusions: Our findings demonstrated that Anxa1 is a novel endogenous defender that prevents acute aortic dissection by inhibiting vascular smooth muscle cell phenotype switching, suggesting that Anxa1 signaling may be a potential target for AAD pharmacological therapy.

Translational perspective: Our studies herein may lead to a paradigm shift for pharmacologic therapy towards acute aortic dissection. Through careful examination of the pathological changes that occur during AAD onset in experimental animal models, we demonstrated that VSMC phenotype switching plays a critical role in the development of AAD. Inhibition of VSMC phenotype switching and its attendant impacts on aortic function may be a viable approach for future treatment. Toward that end, our studies highlighted the protective benefit of Anxa1 and its mimetic peptide Ac2-26 in AAD through prevention of the switching of VSMC to a synthetic phenotype.

Keywords: Acute Aortic Dissection; Annexin A1; MYL9; Phenotypic Switch; VSMC Homeostasis.