research news

Study examines role of arterial stiffness in disease

Yongho Bae pictured working in a lab.

Yongho Bae is principal investigator on a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to study how arterial stiffness contributes to cardiovascular disease. Photo: Sandra Kicman


Published November 16, 2022

“Overall, this proposal is unique in its ability to identify potential new therapeutic targets for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. ”
Yongho Bae, assistant professor
Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences

A UB researcher has been awarded a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute grant to explore how changes in arterial stiffness elicit vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) behaviors that contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Yongho Bae, assistant professor of pathology and anatomical sciences, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is principal investigator on the one-year, $639,543 study titled “Biomimetic Vascular Matrix for Vascular Smooth Muscle Cell Mechanobiology and Pathology.”

His research group focuses on the rapidly growing field of cellular mechanotransduction; specifically, the role that mechanical forces play in regulating cellular function.

“We are mainly interested in understanding the effects and molecular mechanisms by which changes in arterial stiffness modulate VSMC biology and mechanics in many types of pathologies, such as in vascular and cardiovascular diseases,” he says.

Examining novel role of protein survivin

Arterial stiffness is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease events, according to Bae.

“Stiffening of the vessel wall promotes abnormal migration and proliferation of VSMCs, causing neointima formation of the vessel wall,” he explains. “Yet, the molecular mechanisms by which pathological extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness regulates VSMC growth and migration associated with pathological neointima formation are unclear.”

The new study draws upon newly collected preliminary data that show a novel role for the protein survivin as a key regulator of stiffness-mediated VSMC growth and migration, and an effector of arterial stiffening and remodeling.

The researchers identified the stiffness-sensitive induction of survivin as a key mechanism for stimulating VSMC proliferation and migration, and found that survivin inhibition decreases the induction of major ECM proteins directly responsible for arterial stiffness.

New therapeutic targets

Using VSMCs, the study will first explore how vascular ECM stiffness impacts VSMC migration and growth at the single-cell level, and then determine how pathological ECM stiffness drives neointima formation altering the local mechanical environment of VSMCs in vitro.

“This new grant will test survivin’s role in regulating both ECM production and arterial stiffness using an in vivo animal model,” Bae says. “These aims will be achieved using a 3D cell culture using a novel in vitro porcine decellularized aorta ECM based fibrous scaffold system and engineered mouse injury models.”

The new grant will enable, for the first time, the study of molecular and biophysical mechanisms by which surviving mediates stiffness-sensitive VSMC functions, and contributes to neointima formation and stiffening.

“The aim is to reveal a completely new aspect of survivin biology in VSMCs and in the pathology of arterial stiffness,” Bae says. “Overall, this proposal is unique in its ability to identify potential new therapeutic targets for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.”

Multidisciplinary team with unique expertise

In addition to Bae, whose expertise lies in the areas of mechanobiology, vascular cell biology and atomic force microscopy, other team members, their roles and their areas of expertise are:

  • Su Chin Heo (multiple principal investigator), Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, single-cell analysis/tissue engineering.
  • Robert L. Mauck (co-investigator), Perelman School of Medicine, soft tissue mechanics.
  • Kwonmoo Lee (co-investigator) Boston Children’s Hospital, machine learning.
  • John M. Canty Jr., MD (consultant) SUNY Distinguished and Albert and Elizabeth Rekate Professor of Medicine, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, cardiovascular medicine.
  • Jason A. Burdick (consultant), University of Colorado Boulder, biomaterials.
  • Wade J. Sigurdson (consultant), director of Confocal Microscope and Flow Cytometry Facility, Jacobs School, microscopy/imaging.