1. Endothelial dysfunction and vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) proliferation are key events in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Vascular permeability factor (VPF), an endothelial-cell-specific multifunctional cytokine, was recently described, and has the potential to contribute to the development of endothelial dysfunction. The present study determines whether cultured human VSMCs express mRNA for VPF and whether VPF mRNA expression is influenced by human VSMC proliferation.

2. A 204 bp cDNA fragment, specific for all known variants of VPF mRNA, was cloned and used to demonstrate that human VSMCs express abundant quantities of VPF mRNA, whereas human endothelial cells do not. VPF mRNA levels were markedly diminished in non-proliferating human VSMCs. In contrast, when human VSMCs were stimulated to proliferate by exposure to serum, there was a rapid 6.6-fold increase (<P < 0.01 versus time 0 h) in VPF mRNA expression, which was maximal at 3 h and persisted beyond 24 h. The magnitude of the VPF mRNA response in human VSMCs was dependent on the serum concentration.

3. Platelet-derived growth factor also increased VPF mRNA expression by human VSMCs, thus confirming that recognized growth factors for VSMCs also potently influence the VPF gene.

4. In conclusion, VPF mRNA is expressed by human VSMCs, the magnitude of VPF expression being temporally related to the proliferation of human VSMCs and the potency of the growth-promoting stimulus. We propose that VPF produced by proliferating human VSMCs could act as a paracrine hormone to powerfully influence the permeability and growth of the overlying vascular endothelium. We thus report a novel mechanism whereby the stimulation of VSMC proliferation could potently and directly contribute to the development of endothelial dysfunction and the pathogenesis of vascular disease.

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