PATHOLOGICAL PIONEERS: In low-oxygen conditions, smooth muscle cells in the arteriole of a mouse migrate distally (red and blue cells).COURTESY OF A. SHEIKH AND D. GREIF, YALE UNIVERSITY


The paper
A.Q. Sheikh et al., “Smooth muscle cell progenitors are primed to muscularize in pulmonary hypertension,” Sci Transl Med, 7:308ra159, 2015.

The sleeve
Blood vessels are surrounded by a layer of smooth muscle that helps regulate blood flow. In healthy lungs, this muscular sleeve ends midway along the length of arterioles, which branch into capillaries. In pulmonary hypertension (PH), however, the muscle extends distally toward the capillary bed and stiffens the vessel.

The migration
Previous research in mice from Yale University’s Daniel Greif and colleagues found that oxygen deprivation (hypoxia), which can cause PH in humans and animal models, leads smooth muscle cells (SMCs) in the proximal and middle arteriole to dedifferentiate,...

The clonal expansion “is really a fascinating discovery that they’ve made,” says University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Gary Owens. “It’s the coolest paper I’ve read in some time.”

The applications
Greif says the group’s finding is “particularly exciting” because it suggests that this pathological muscle arises from a small number of specific progenitors, which could potentially be targets for treatments.

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