Elastic fibres are essential for normal physiology in numerous tissues, including arteries, lungs and skin. Fibulin-4 is an elastic-fibre-associated glycoprotein that is indispensable for elastic-fibre formation in mice. However, the mechanism by which fibulin-4 executes this function remains to be determined. Here, we established an in vitro functional assay system in which fibulin-4 was knocked down in human foreskin fibroblasts using siRNA (small interfering RNA) technology. With two different siRNAs, substantial knockdown of fibulin-4 was achieved, and this suppression was associated with impaired elastic-fibre formation by the fibroblasts. Real-time reverse transcription–PCR analysis showed that knockdown of fibulin-4 expression was accompanied by reduced expression of tropoelastin mRNA. Further analysis showed that this decrease was caused by transcriptional down-regulation of tropoelastin. This effect was selective, since the mRNA level of other elastic-fibre-associated proteins, including fibrillin-1, lysyl oxidase and lysyl oxidase-like-1, was not affected. Moreover, addition of conditioned medium from cultures of CHO (Chinese-hamster ovary) cells overexpressing fibulin-4 stimulated tropoelastin expression and elastic-fibre formation in cultures of Williams–Beuren-syndrome fibroblasts. Knocking down or knocking out fibulin-4 in mice led to a decrease in tropoelastin expression in the aorta. These results indicate that fibulin-4, considered as a structural protein, may also participate in regulating elastic-fibre formation in human cells through an unanticipated mechanism, namely the regulation of tropoelastin expression.

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