Dynamic changes in chromatin accessibility are associated with the atherogenic transitioning of vascular smooth muscle cells

Ying Wang, Hua Gao, Fudi Wang, Zhongde Ye, Michal Mokry, Adam W. Turner, Jianqin Ye, Simon Koplev, Lingfeng Luo, Tom Alsaigh, Shaunak S. Adkar, Maria Elishaev, Xiangyu Gao, Lars Maegdefessel, Johan L.M. Björkegren, Gerard Pasterkamp, Clint L. Miller, Elsie G. Ross, Nicholas J. Leeper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Aims: De-differentiation and activation of pro-inflammatory pathways are key transitions vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) make during atherogenesis. Here, we explored the upstream regulators of this 'atherogenic transition'. Methods and results: Genome-wide sequencing studies, including Assay for Transposase-Accessible Chromatin using sequencing and RNA-seq, were performed on cells isolated from both murine SMC-lineage-tracing models of atherosclerosis and human atherosclerotic lesions. At the bulk level, alterations in chromatin accessibility were associated with the atherogenic transitioning of lesional SMCs, especially in relation to genes that govern differentiation status and complement-dependent inflammation. Using computational biology, we observed that a transcription factor previously related to coronary artery disease, Activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3), was predicted to be an upstream regulator of genes altered during the transition. At the single-cell level, our results indicated that ATF3 is a key repressor of SMC transitioning towards the subset of cells that promote vascular inflammation by activating the complement cascade. The expression of ATF3 and complement component C3 was negatively correlated in SMCs from human atherosclerotic lesions, suggesting translational relevance. Phenome-wide association studies indicated that genetic variation that results in reduced expression of ATF3 is correlated with an increased risk for atherosclerosis, and the expression of ATF3 was significantly down-regulated in humans with advanced vascular disease. Conclusion: Our study indicates that the plasticity of atherosclerotic SMCs may in part be explained by dynamic changes in their chromatin architecture, which in turn may contribute to their maladaptive response to inflammation-induced stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2792-2804
Number of pages13
JournalCardiovascular Research
Issue number13
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2022


  • Atherogenic transition
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Chromatin accessibility
  • Vascular smooth muscle cell


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