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Open access

Alessandra Magenta, Reggio Lorde, Sunayana Begum Syed, Maurizio C Capogrossi, Annibale Puca and Paolo Madeddu

Regenerative medicine is a new therapeutic modality that aims to mend tissue damage by encouraging the reconstitution of physiological integrity. It represents an advancement over conventional therapies that allow reducing the damage but result in disease chronicization. Age-related decline in spontaneous capacity of repair, especially in organs like the heart that have very limited proliferative capacity, contributes in reducing the benefit of conventional therapy. ncRNAs are emerging as key epigenetic regulators of cardiovascular regeneration. Inhibition or replacement of miRNAs may offer reparative solutions to cardiovascular disease. The first part of this review article is devoted to illustrating novel therapies emerging from research on miRNAs. In the second part, we develop new therapeutic concepts emerging from genetics of longevity. Prolonged survival, as in supercentenarians, denotes an exceptional capacity to repair and cope with risk factors and diseases. These characteristics are shared with offspring, suggesting that the regenerative phenotype is heritable. New evidence indicates that genetic traits responsible for prolongation of health span in humans can be passed to and benefit the outcomes of animal models of cardiovascular disease. Genetic studies have also focused on determinants of accelerated senescence and related druggable targets. Evolutionary genetics assessing the genetic basis of adaptation and comparing successful and unsuccessful genetic changes in response to selection within populations represent a powerful basis to develop novel therapies aiming to prolong cardiovascular and whole organism health.

Open access

Ruth Ganss

Tumour growth critically depends on a supportive microenvironment, including the tumour vasculature. Tumour blood vessels are structurally abnormal and functionally anergic which limits drug access and immune responses in solid cancers. Thus, tumour vasculature has been considered an attractive therapeutic target for decades. However, with time, anti-angiogenic therapy has evolved from destruction to structural and functional rehabilitation as understanding of tumour vascular biology became more refined. Vessel remodelling or normalisation strategies which alleviate hypoxia are now coming of age having been shown to have profound effects on the tumour microenvironment. This includes improved tumour perfusion, release from immune suppression and lower metastasis rates. Nevertheless, clinical translation has been slow due to challenges such as the transient nature of current normalisation strategies, limited in vivo monitoring and the heterogeneity of primary and/or metastatic tumour environments, calling for more tailored approaches to vascular remodelling. Despite these setbacks, harnessing vascular plasticity provides unique opportunities for anti-cancer combination therapies in particular anti-angiogenic immunotherapy which are yet to reach their full potential.

Open access

Makeda Stephenson, Daniel H Reich and Kenneth R Boheler

The reproducible generation of human-induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived vascular smooth muscle cells (vSMCs) in vitro has been critical to overcoming many limitations of animal and primary cell models of vascular biology and disease. Since this initial advance, research in the field has turned toward recapitulating the naturally occurring subtype specificity found in vSMCs throughout the body, and honing functional models of vascular disease. In this review, we summarize vSMC derivation approaches, including current phenotype and developmental origin-specific methods, and applications of vSMCs in functional disease models and engineered tissues. Further, we discuss the challenges of heterogeneity in hiPSC-derived tissues and propose approaches to identify and isolate vSMC subtype populations.

Open access

Malik Bisserier, Radoslav Janostiak, Frank Lezoualc’h and Lahouaria Hadri

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a multifactorial cardiopulmonary disease characterized by an elevation of pulmonary artery pressure (PAP) and pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR), which can lead to right ventricular (RV) failure, multi-organ dysfunction, and ultimately to premature death. Despite the advances in molecular biology, the mechanisms underlying pulmonary hypertension (PH) remain unclear. Nowadays, there is no curative treatment for treating PH. Therefore, it is crucial to identify novel, specific therapeutic targets and to offer more effective treatments against the progression of PH. Increasing amounts of evidence suggest that epigenetic modification may play a critical role in the pathogenesis of PAH. In the presented paper, we provide an overview of the epigenetic mechanisms specifically, DNA methylation, histone acetylation, histone methylation, and ncRNAs. As the recent identification of new pharmacological drugs targeting these epigenetic mechanisms has opened new therapeutic avenues, we also discuss the importance of epigenetic-based therapies in the context of PH.

Open access

Piotr Kobialka and Mariona Graupera

PI3Ks belong to a family of lipid kinases that comprises eight isoforms. They phosphorylate the third position of the inositol ring present in phosphatidylinositol lipids and, in turn, activate a broad range of proteins. The PI3K pathway regulates primal cellular responses, including proliferation, migration, metabolism and vesicular traffic. These processes are fundamental for endothelial cell function during sprouting angiogenesis, the most common type of blood vessel formation. Research in animal models has revealed key functions of PI3K family members and downstream effectors in angiogenesis. In addition, perturbations in PI3K signalling have been associated with aberrant vascular growth including tumour angiogenesis and vascular malformations. Together, this highlights that endothelial cells are uniquely sensitive to fluctuations in PI3K signalling. Here, we aim to update the current view on this important signalling cue in physiological and pathological blood vessel growth.

Open access

Eleonora Zucchelli, Qasim A Majid and Gabor Foldes

Angiogenesis and vasculogenesis are complex processes by which new blood vessels are formed and expanded. They play a pivotal role not only in physiological development and growth and tissue and organ repair, but also in a range of pathological conditions, from tumour formation to chronic inflammation and atherosclerosis. Understanding the multistep cell-differentiation programmes and identifying the key molecular players of physiological angiogenesis/vasculogenesis are critical to tackle pathological mechanisms. While many questions are yet to be answered, increasingly sophisticated in vitro, in vivo and ex vivo models of angiogenesis/vasculogenesis, together with cutting-edge imaging techniques, allowed for recent major advances in the field. This review aims to summarise the three-dimensional models available to study vascular network formation and to discuss advantages and limitations of the current systems.

Open access

Aurélie Hautefort, Anna Pfenniger and Brenda R Kwak

Gap junctions are essential for intercellular crosstalk in blood and lymphatic vasculature. These clusters of intercellular channels ensure direct communication among endothelial cells and between endothelial and smooth muscle cells, and the synchronization of their behavior along the vascular tree. Gap junction channels are formed by connexins; six connexins form a connexon or hemichannel and the docking of two connexons result in a full gap junction channel allowing for the exchange of ions and small metabolites between neighboring cells. Recent evidence indicates that the intracellular domains of connexins may also function as an interaction platform (interactome) for other proteins, thereby regulating their function. Interestingly, fragments of Cx proteins generated by alternative internal translation were recently described, although their functions in the vascular wall remain to be uncovered. Variations in connexin expression are observed along different types of blood and lymphatic vessels; the most commonly found endothelial connexins are Cx37, Cx40, Cx43 and Cx47. Physiological studies on connexin-knockout mice demonstrated the essential roles of these channel-forming proteins in the coordination of vasomotor activity, endothelial permeability and inflammation, angiogenesis and in the maintenance of fluid balance in the body.

Open access

Amer Harky, Ka Siu Fan and Ka Hay Fan

Thoracic aortic aneurysms and aortic dissections (TAAD) are highly fatal emergencies within cardiothoracic surgery. With increasing age, thoracic aneurysms become more prevalent and pose an even greater threat when they develop into aortic dissections. Both diseases are multifactorial and are influenced by a multitude of physiological and biomechanical processes. Structural stability of aorta can be disrupted by genes, such as those for extracellular matrix and contractile protein, as well as telomere dysfunction, which leads to senescence of smooth muscle and endothelial cells. Biomechanical changes such as increased luminal pressure imposed by hypertension are also very prevalent and lead to structural instability. Furthermore, ageing is associated with a pro-inflammatory state that exacerbates degeneration of vessel wall, facilitating the development of both aortic aneurysms and aortic dissection. This literature review provides an overview of the aetiology and pathophysiology of both thoracic aneurysms and aortic dissections. With an improved understanding, new therapeutic targets may eventually be identified to facilitate treatment and prevention of these diseases.

Open access

T Scott Bowen and Stuart Egginton

While the important and varied roles that vascular cells play in both health and disease is well recognised, the focus on potential therapeutic targets continually shifts as new players emerge. Here, we outline how mitochondria may be viewed as more than simply energy-generating organelles, but instead as important sentinels of metabolic health and effectors of appropriate responses to physiological challenges.

Open access

Tomasz Jadczyk, Guido Caluori, Wojciech Wojakowski and Zdenek Starek

Nanotechnology and stem cells are one of the most promising strategies for clinical medicine applications. The article provides an up-to-date view on advances in the field of regenerative and targeted vascular therapies describing a molecular design (propulsion mechanism, composition, target identification) and applications of nanorobots. Stem cell paragraph presents current clinical application of various cell types involved in vascular biology including mesenchymal stem cells, very small embryonic-like stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, mononuclear stem cells, amniotic fluid-derived stem cells and endothelial progenitor cells. A possible bridging between the two fields is also envisioned, where bio-inspired, safe, long-lasting nanorobots can fully target the cellular specific cues and even drive vascular process in a timely manner.