Vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) in the rat mesenteric artery show specific immunofluorescent staining with antisera against purified human uterine myosin (ASMM) but not human platelet myosin (APM). However, in primary cultures produced by enzymatic dissociation of this vessel, VSMC stain specifically with both ASMM and APM within 5 h after plating and throughout growth to confluence (4-10 d). In confluent cultures, APM staining remains bright while ASMM staining is reduced in intensity in most cells. In contrast, cellular myosin content, determined by quantitative SDS PAGE, is comparable in confluent and growing cultures. Immunoprecipitation of high salt extracts of cultured VSMC with ASMM and APM yields myosins with the same mobilities on SDS PAGE. When serial, exhaustive precipitations are performed with one antiserum, followed by reprecipitation with the other, myosin in subconfluent and confluent VSMC cultures is exhaustively precipitated by either antiserum, thus indicating complete immunological cross-reactivity. These results might be explained by synthesis of a new myosin isoform reactive with both ASMM and APM. However, the development of APM staining in cultured VSMC did not require protein synthesis. Therefore, it is more likely that the changes in immunofluorescent staining observed in vitro reflect conformational alterations, perhaps related to cytoskeletal rearrangements. These changes in myosin antigenic expression may be relevant to the problem of VSMC phenotypic modulation both in vitro and in vivo.

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