Control of smooth muscle cell growth by components of the extracellular matrix: autocrine role for thrombospondin.


Addition of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) to growth-arrested cultured smooth muscle cells (SMC) induces the synthesis and secretion of thrombospondin (TS), a glycoprotein component of the SMC extracellular matrix in vitro. This induction occurs at PDGF concentrations that are suboptimal for a mitogenic response. In this study we examined the effect of TS on the proliferation of SMC, using a serum-free mitogenesis assay. Addition of either epidermal growth factor (EGF) or purified human platelet TS to quiescent rat vascular SMC did not substantially stimulate mitogenesis; the 30-hr nuclear labeling index increased from a mean of 7% in control cells to 20% for EGF-treated SMC and 17% for cells exposed to TS alone. However, TS and EGF acted synergistically to stimulate DNA synthesis by SMC, increasing the labeling index to 47%. The facilitative effect of TS on EGF-mediated mitogenesis was inhibited by heparin, a known inhibitor of SMC growth and migration that also blocks incorporation of TS into the SMC extracellular matrix. The effect was specific for EGF; TS did not augment the response of cells to insulin or insulin-like growth factor 1. These data establish a functional role for cell-derived TS and provide evidence for the presence of an autocrine, growth-supportive mechanism involving the extracellular matrix. In addition, our experiments support the existence of a novel, heparin-sensitive SMC mitogenic pathway and suggest a mechanism whereby heparin-like molecules may inhibit SMC proliferation.

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