Progerin induces a phenotypic switch in vascular smooth muscle cells and triggers replication stress and an aging-associated secretory signature

Geroscience. 2022 Dec 9. doi: 10.1007/s11357-022-00694-1. Online ahead of print.


Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome is a premature aging disease caused by LMNA gene mutation and the production of a truncated prelamin A protein "progerin" that elicits cellular and organismal toxicity. Progerin accumulates in the vasculature, being especially detrimental for vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC). Vessel stiffening and aortic atherosclerosis in HGPS patients are accompanied by VSMC depletion in the medial layer, altered extracellular matrix (ECM), and thickening of the adventitial layer. Mechanisms whereby progerin causes massive VSMC loss and vessel alterations remain poorly understood. Mature VSMC retain phenotypic plasticity and can switch to a synthetic/proliferative phenotype. Here, we show that progerin expression in human and mouse VSMC causes a switch towards the synthetic phenotype. This switch elicits some level of replication stress in normal cells, which is exacerbated in the presence of progerin, leading to telomere fragility, genomic instability, and ultimately VSMC death. Calcitriol prevents replication stress, telomere fragility, and genomic instability, reducing VSMC death. In addition, RNA-seq analysis shows induction of a profibrotic and pro-inflammatory aging-associated secretory phenotype upon progerin expression in human primary VSMC. Our data suggest that phenotypic switch-induced replication stress might be an underlying cause of VSMC loss in progeria, which together with loss of contractile features and gain of profibrotic and pro-inflammatory signatures contribute to vascular stiffness in HGPS.

Keywords: Cardiovascular disease; Genomic instability; Lamins; Progeria; Replication stress; Telomere fragility.