Rho Kinase Regulates Aortic Vascular Smooth Muscle Cell Stiffness Via Actin/SRF/Myocardin in Hypertension

Ning Zhou, Jia Jye Lee, Shaunrick Stoll, Ben Ma, Kevin D. Costa, Hongyu Qiu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Background/Aims: Our previous studies demonstrated that intrinsic aortic smooth muscle cell (VSMC) stiffening plays a pivotal role in aortic stiffening in aging and hypertension. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms remain largely unknown. We here hypothesized that Rho kinase (ROCK) acts as a novel mediator that regulates intrinsic VSMC mechanical properties through the serum response factor (SRF)/myocardin pathway and consequently regulates aortic stiffness and blood pressure in hypertension. Methods: Four-month old male spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) and Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rats were studied. Aortic stiffness was measured by echography. Intrinsic mechanical properties of VSMCs were measured by atomic force microscopy (AFM) in vitro. Results: Compared to WKY rats, SHR showed a significant increase in aortic stiffness and blood pressure, which is accompanied by a remarkable cell stiffening and ROCK activation in thoracic aortic (TA) VSMCs. Theses alterations in SHR were abolished by Y-27632, a specific inhibitor of ROCK. Additionally, boosted filamentous/globular actin ratio was detected in TA VSMCs from SHR versus WKY rats, resulting in an up-regulation of SRF and myocardin expression and its downstream stiffness-associated genes including α-smooth muscle actin, SM22, smoothelin and myosin heavy chain 11. Reciprocally, these alterations in SHR TA VSMCs were also suppressed by Y-27632. Furthermore, a specific inhibitor of SRF/myocardin, CCG-100602, showed a similar effect to Y-27632 in SHR in both TA VSMCs stiffness in vitro and aorta wall stiffness in vivo. Conclusion: ROCK is a novel mediator modulating aortic VSMC stiffness through SRF/myocardin signaling which offers a therapeutic target to reduce aortic stiffening in hypertension.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-715
Number of pages15
JournalCellular Physiology and Biochemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Aortic stiffness
  • Atomic force microscopy
  • Hypertension
  • Myocardin
  • Rho kinase
  • Serum response factor
  • Vascular smooth muscle cell


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