Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells: Isolation, Culture, and Characterization

  • Richard P. Metz
  • Jan L. Patterson
  • Emily Wilson
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 843)


Vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) are the cellular components of the normal blood vessel wall that provides structural integrity and regulates the diameter by contracting and relaxing dynamically in response to vasoactive stimuli. The differentiated state of the VSMC is characterized by specific contractile proteins, ion channels, and cell surface receptors that regulate the contractile process and are thus termed contractile cells. In addition to these normal functions, in response to injury or during development, VSMCs are responsible for the synthesis of extracellular matrix proteins, become migratory and proliferate. This phenotype has been termed synthetic cells. To better understand the mechanisms regulating these and other processes, scientists have depended on cultured cells that can be manipulated in vitro. In this chapter, we will discuss in detail the explant method for isolation of VSMC and will compare it to the enzymatic digestion method. We will also briefly describe methods for characterizing the resulting cells.

Key words

Smooth muscle Isolation Culture Explant 


  1. 1.
    Campbell, G., and Campbell, J. (1995) Development of the Vessel Wall: Overview, in The Smooth Muscle Cell Molecular and Biolgoical Responses to the Extracellular Matrix (Schwartz, S., and Mecham, R., Eds.), pp 1–10, Academic Press, San Diego, CA.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Owens, G. K. (1995) Regulation of differentiation of vascular smooth muscle cells, Physiol Rev 75, 487–517.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Campbell, G., and Campbell, J. (1987) Phenotypic modulation of smooth muscle cells in primary culture, in Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells in Culture (Campbell, G., and Campbell, J., Eds.), pp 39–56, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Chamley-Campbell, J., Campbell, G. R., and Ross, R. (1979) The smooth muscle cell in culture, Physiol Rev 59, 1–61.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Chamley-Campbell, J. H., Campbell, G. R., and Ross, R. (1981) Phenotype-dependent response of cultured aortic smooth muscle to serum mitogens, J Cell Biol 89, 379–383.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Gabella, G. (1984) Structural apparatus for force transmission in smooth muscles, Physiol Rev 64, 455–477.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Wamhoff, B. R., Bowles, D. K., and Owens, G. K. (2006) Excitation-transcription coupling in arterial smooth muscle, Circ Res 98, 868–878.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Yoshida, T., and Owens, G. K. (2005) Molecular determinants of vascular smooth muscle cell diversity, Circ Res 96, 280–291.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Owens, G. K., Kumar, M. S., and Wamhoff, B. R. (2004) Molecular regulation of vascular smooth muscle cell differentiation in development and disease, Physiol Rev 84, 767–801.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Gorenne, I., Kavurma, M., Scott, S., and Bennett, M. (2006) Vascular smooth muscle cell senescence in atherosclerosis, Cardiovasc Res 72, 9–17.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Thyberg, J. (1996) Differentiated properties and proliferation of arterial smooth muscle cells in culture, Int Rev Cytol 169, 183–265.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Pauly, R. R., Passaniti, A., Crow, M., Kinsella, J. L., Papadopoulos, N., Monticone, R., Lakatta, E. G., and Martin, G. R. (1992) Experimental models that mimic the differentiation and dedifferentiation of vascular cells, Circulation 86, III68–73.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ross, R. (1971) The smooth muscle cell. II. Growth of smooth muscle in culture and formation of elastic fibers, J Cell Biol 50, 172–186.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ray, J., Leach, R., Herbert, J., and Benson, M. (2001) Isolation of vascular smooth msucle cells from a single murine aorta, Methods Cell Sci 23, 185–188.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Mcmurray, H., Parrott, D., and Bowyer, D. (1991) A standardised method of culturing aortic explants, suitable for the study of factors affecting the phenotypic modulation, migration, and proliferation of aortic smooth muscle cells, Atherosclerosis 86, 227–237.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Owens, G. K., and Wise, G. (1997) Regulation of differentiation/maturation in vascular smooth muscle cells by hormones and growth factors, Agents Actions Suppl 48, 3–24.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Majesky, M. W., Giachelli, C. M., Reidy, M. A., and Schwartz, S. M. (1992) Rat carotid neointimal smooth muscle cells reexpress a developmentally regulated mRNA phenotype during repair of arterial injury, Circ Res 71, 759–768.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Zanellato, A., Borrione, A., Tonello, M., Scannapieco, G., Pauletto, P., and Santore, S. (1990) Myosin isoform expression and smooth msucle cell heterogeneity in normal and atherosclerotic rabbit aorta, Arteriosclerosis 10, 996–1009.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard P. Metz
    • 1
  • Jan L. Patterson
    • 1
  • Emily Wilson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Systems Biology and Translational MedicineTexas A&M Health Science Center, College of MedicineCollege StationUSA

Personalised recommendations