Differing calcification processes in cultured vascular smooth muscle cells and osteoblasts

Jessal Patel, Lucie E Bourne, Bethan K Davies, Timothy R Arnett, Vicky E MacRae, Caroline P D Wheeler-Jones, Isabel R Orriss

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13 Citations (Scopus)
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Arterial medial calcification (AMC) is the deposition of calcium phosphate mineral, often as hydroxyapatite, inthe medial layer of the arteries. AMC shares some similarities to skeletal mineralisation and has been associatedwith the transdifferentiation of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) towards an osteoblast-like phenotype. Thisstudy used primary mouse VSMCs and calvarial osteoblasts to directly compare the established and widely usedin vitromodels of AMC and bone formation. Significant differences were identified between osteoblasts andcalcifying VSMCs. First, osteoblasts formed large mineralised bone nodules that were associated with widespreaddeposition of an extracellular collagenous matrix. In contrast, VSMCs formed small discrete regions of calcifi-cation that were not associated with collagen deposition and did not resemble bone. Second, calcifying VSMCsdisplayed a progressive reduction in cell viability over time (≤7-fold), with a 50% increase in apoptosis,whereas osteoblast and control VSMCs viability remained unchanged. Third, osteoblasts expressed high levels ofalkaline phosphatase (TNAP) activity and TNAP inhibition reduced bone formation by to 90%. TNAP activity incalcifying VSMCs was∼100-fold lower than that of bone-forming osteoblasts and cultures treated withβ-gly-cerophosphate, a TNAP substrate, did not calcify. Furthermore, TNAP inhibition had no effect on VSMC calci-fication. Although, VSMC calcification was associated with increased mRNA expression of osteoblast-relatedgenes (e.g. Runx2, osterix, osteocalcin, osteopontin), the relative expression of these genes was up to 40-foldlower in calcifying VSMCs versus bone-forming osteoblasts. In summary, calcifying VSMCsin vitrodisplay somelimited osteoblast-like characteristics but also differ in several key respects: 1) their inability to form collagen-containing bone; 2) their lack of reliance on TNAP to promote mineral deposition; and, 3) the deleterious effectof calcification on their viability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-113
Number of pages14
JournalExperimental Cell Research
Issue number1
Early online date18 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • Alkaline phosphatase
  • Bone formation
  • Osteoblast
  • VSMC
  • Vascular calcification


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