The role of the mesenchyme homeobox genes in the regulation of vascular endothelial cell function
Northcott, Josette M. D.
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The mesenchyme homeobox genes, MEOX1 and MEOX2, encode homeodomain transcription factors. Studies of Meox1/Meox2 knockout mice established that these proteins are partially redundant during development, suggesting that they may regulate common target genes. In the adult vasculature, MEOX2 is expressed in vascular smooth muscle and endothelial cells. MEOX2 has been demonstrated to: i) inhibit proliferation, ii) activate apoptosis and iii) induce senescence. In contrast, the role of MEOX1 has not been studied in the vasculature. Currently, there are two known target genes of MEOX2: cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1A (CDKN1A/p21CIP1/WAF1) and cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2A (CDKN2A/p16INK4a), which regulate transient (quiescent) and permanent (senescent) cell cycle arrest. Senescence is postulated to contribute to the development of atherosclerotic vascular disease by promoting endothelial dysfunction. We hypothesized that MEOX1 and MEOX2 would activate both p21CIP1/WAF1 and p16INK4a expression, as well as induce apoptosis, cell cycle arrest and senescence in endothelial cells. Furthermore, we postulated that the majority of newly identified MEOX target genes in endothelial cells would be regulated by both MEOX1 and MEOX2. MEOX proteins were expressed in human endothelial cells via adenoviral transduction. Levels of target gene expression were measured by luciferase reporter gene assays, western blot and quantitative real-time PCR. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays were used to demonstrate MEOX binding to DNA. Cellular proliferation, senescence, and apoptosis were evaluated. For the identification of novel target genes, microarrays were used to compare levels of gene expression in endothelial cells transduced with MEOX constructs or control virus. Both MEOX1 and MEOX2 activated p21CIP1/WAF1 and p16INK4a gene transcription, inhibited proliferation and induced apoptosis and senescence in endothelial cells. MEOX activation of p21CIP1/WAF1 transcription occurs via a DNA-binding independent mechanism that requires the SP1 transcription factor. In contrast, MEOX activation of p16INK4a transcription is dependent upon DNA-binding. Microarray analysis revealed that both MEOX1 and MEOX2 increased the expression of intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1) and decreased the expression of nitric oxide synthase 3 (NOS3/eNOS). Taken together, we conclude that MEOX1 and MEOX2 have similar target genes in endothelial cells including p21CIP1/WAF1, p16INK4a and eNOS. As increased endothelial senescence and decreased nitric oxide production are hallmarks of endothelial dysfunction, this study proposes a role for the MEOX proteins in the progression of atherosclerotic vascular disease.