Differential Effects of Platelet Factor 4 (CXCL4) and Its Non-Allelic Variant (CXCL4L1) on Cultured Human Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Jan 6;23(2):580. doi: 10.3390/ijms23020580.


Platelet factor 4 (CXCL4) is a chemokine abundantly stored in platelets. Upon injury and during atherosclerosis, CXCL4 is transported through the vessel wall where it modulates the function of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) by affecting proliferation, migration, gene expression and cytokine release. Variant CXCL4L1 is distinct from CXCL4 in function and expression pattern, despite a minor three-amino acid difference. Here, the effects of CXCL4 and CXCL4L1 on the phenotype and function of human VSMCs were compared in vitro. VSMCs were found to constitutively express CXCL4L1 and only exogenously added CXCL4 was internalized by VSMCs. Pre-treatment with heparin completely blocked CXCL4 uptake. A role of the putative CXCL4 receptors CXCR3 and DARC in endocytosis was excluded, but LDL receptor family members appeared to be involved in the uptake of CXCL4. Incubation of VSMCs with both CXCL4 and CXCL4L1 resulted in decreased expression of contractile marker genes and increased mRNA levels of KLF4 and NLRP3 transcription factors, yet only CXCL4 stimulated proliferation and calcification of VSMCs. In conclusion, CXCL4 and CXCL4L1 both modulate gene expression, yet only CXCL4 increases the division rate and formation of calcium-phosphate crystals in VSMCs. CXCL4 and CXCL4L1 may play distinct roles during vascular remodeling in which CXCL4 induces proliferation and calcification while endogenously expressed CXCL4L1 governs cellular homeostasis. The latter notion remains a subject for future investigation.

Keywords: CXCL4; CXCL4L1; artery; inflammation; platelet; smooth muscle cell; vascular remodeling.

MeSH terms

  • Calcinosis*
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Kruppel-Like Factor 4 / genetics
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / physiology
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein / genetics
  • Platelet Factor 4 / metabolism
  • Platelet Factor 4 / physiology*


  • KLF4 protein, human
  • Kruppel-Like Factor 4
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein
  • NLRP3 protein, human
  • PF4 protein, human
  • PF4V1 protein, human
  • Platelet Factor 4