Quiescent smooth muscle cells (SMC) in normal artery express a pattern of actin isoforms with alpha-smooth muscle (alpha SM) predominance that switches to beta predominance when the cells are proliferating. We have examined the relationship between the change in actin isoforms and entry of SMC into the growth cycle in an in vivo model of SMC proliferation (balloon injured rat carotid artery). alpha SM actin mRNA declined and cytoplasmic (beta + gamma) actin mRNAs increased in early G0/G1 (between 1 and 8 h after injury). In vivo synthesis and in vitro translation experiments demonstrated that functional alpha SM mRNA is decreased 24 h after injury and is proportional to the amount of mRNA present. At 36 h after injury, SMC prepared by enzymatic digestion were sorted into G0/G1 and S/G2 populations; only the SMC committed to proliferate (S/G2 fraction) showed a relative slight decrease in alpha SM actin and, more importantly, a large decrease in alpha SM actin mRNA. A switch from alpha SM predominance to beta predominance was present in the whole SMC population 5 d after injury. To determine if the change in actin isoforms was associated with proliferation, we inhibited SMC proliferation by approximately 80% with heparin, which has previously been shown to block SMC in late G0/G1 and to reduce the growth fraction. The switch in actin mRNAs and synthesis at 24 h was not prevented; however, alpha SM mRNA and protein were reinduced at 5 d in the heparin-treated animals compared to saline-treated controls. These results suggest that in vivo the synthesis of actin isoforms in arterial SMC depends on the mRNA levels and changes after injury in early G0/G1 whether or not the cells subsequently proliferate. The early changes in actin isoforms are not prevented by heparin, but they are eventually reversed if the SMC are kept in the resting state by the heparin treatment.

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