Smooth muscle cells from the aortic media of adult pigs and monkeys have been grown in primary culture by plating cells enzymatically dissociated from the intact aorta. During the first 6 d these cells are in the "contractile" phenotype. That is, they contract slowly in response to angiotensin II and their cytoplasm is filled with both thick and thin myofilaments. In this state they do not incorporate [3H]thymidine into DNA or proliferate in response to normolipemic or hyperlipemic whole blood serum (WBS). After 7 d in culture the cells undergo a spontaneous modulation of phenotype to a "synthetic" state where they cannot be stimulated to contract and their cytoplasm is filled with organelles usually associated with synthesis of secretory protein. Thick myosin-containing filaments can no longer be demonstrated. When challenged with normolipemic or hyperlipemic WBS the cells incorporate [3H]thymidine into DNA and undergo logarithmic growth. It is suggested that when smooth muscle is the contractile phenotype (as normally exists for most cells in the aortic media of adult animals) it does not divide when challenged with serum mitogens but can undergo a change of phenotype to a synthetic state in which division can be stimulated.
An extensive study of adult and developing smooth muscle has revealed the widespread occurrence of a distinct filament with an average diameter of about 100 A (termed the 100 A filament). Unlike that of myofilaments, their appearance in longitudinal section is uniform, but in transverse section they have a round profile, occasionally exhibiting a less electron-opaque core. The 100 A filaments are almost invariably preserved under a variety of fixation procedures, whereas myofilaments, particularly the thicker filaments, are preserved inconsistently. The 100 A filaments appear to be randomly oriented throughout the cytoplasm, either singly or in small groups, although they are sometimes concentrated in the juxtanuclear region of the smooth muscle cells. The intimate association of 100 A filaments with dark bodies, in both developing and adult smooth muscle cells, may indicate that these filaments either play a role in dark body formation or, at least, constitute a part of the dark body. The 100 A filaments are conspicuous in developing smooth muscle cells and occasionally form networks or clusters; they appear to decrease in relative number as maturation proceeds, but considerable numbers are still present in adult tissue.