Using cultured cells from bovine and rat aortas, we have examined the possibility that endothelial cells might regulate the growth of vascular smooth muscle cells. Conditioned medium from confluent bovine aortic endothelial cells inhibited the proliferation of growth-arrested smooth muscle cells. Conditioned medium from exponential endothelial cells, and from exponential or confluent smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts, did not inhibit smooth muscle cell growth. Conditioned medium from confluent endothelial cells did not inhibit the growth of endothelial cells or fibroblasts. In addition to the apparent specificity of both the producer and target cell, the inhibitory activity was heat stable and not affected by proteases. It was sensitive flavobacterium heparinase but not to hyaluronidase or chondroitin sulfate ABC lyase. It thus appears to be a heparinlike substance. Two other lines of evidence support this conclusion. First, a crude isolate of glycosaminoglycans (TCA-soluble, ethanol-precipitable material) from endothelial cell-conditioned medium reconstituted in 20 percent serum inhibited smooth muscle cell growth; glycosaminoglycans isolated from unconditioned medium (i.e., 0.4 percent serum) had no effect on smooth muscle cell growth. No inhibition was seen if the glycosaminoglycan preparation was treated with heparinase. Second, exogenous heparin, heparin sulfate, chondroitin sulfate B (dermatan sulfate), chondroitin sulfate ABC, and hyaluronic acid were added to 20 percent serum and tested for their ability to inhibit smooth muscle cell growth. Heparin inhibited growth at concentrations as low as 10 ng/ml. Other glycosaminoglycans had no effect at doses up to 10 μg/ml. Anticoagulant and non- anticoagulant heparin were equally effective at inhibiting smooth muscle cell growth, as they were in vivo following endothelial injury (Clowes and Karnovsk. Nature (Lond.). 265:625-626, 1977; Guyton et al. Circ. Res. 46:625-634, 1980), and in vitro following exposure of smooth muscle cells to platelet extract (Hoover et al. Circ. Res. 47:578-583, 1980). We suggest that vascular endothelial cells may secrete a heparinlike substance in vivo which may regulate the growth of underlying smooth muscle cells.

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