Liu R, Lo L, Lay AJ, Zhao Y, Ting KK, Robertson EN, Sherrah AG, Jarrah S, Li H, Zhou Z, Hambly BD, Richmond DR, Jeremy RW, Bannon PG, Vadas MA, Gamble JR

Circ. Res. 2017 Aug;121(5):512-524

PMID: 28701309


RATIONALE: Thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA) is a potentially lethal condition, which can affect individuals of all ages. TAA may be complicated by the sudden onset of life-threatening dissection or rupture. The underlying mechanisms leading to TAA formation, particularly in the nonsyndromal idiopathic group of patients, are not well understood. Thus, identification of new genes and targets that are involved in TAA pathogenesis are required to help prevent and reverse the disease phenotype.

OBJECTIVE: Here we explore the role of ARHGAP18, a novel Rho GAP expressed by smooth muscle cells (SMCs), in the pathogenesis of TAA.

METHODS AND RESULTS: Using human and mouse aortic samples, we report that ARHGAP18 levels were significantly reduced in the SMC layer of aortic aneurysms. Arhgap18 global knockout (Arhgap18(-/)(-)) mice exhibited a highly synthetic, proteolytic, and proinflammatory smooth muscle phenotype under basal conditions and when challenged with angiotensin II, developed TAA with increased frequency and severity compared with littermate controls. Chromatin immunoprecipitation studies revealed this phenotype is partly associated with strong enrichment of H3K4me3 and depletion of H3K27me3 at the MMP2 and TNF-α promoters in Arhgap18-deficient SMC. We further show that TAA formation in the Arhgap18(-/-) mice is associated with loss of Akt activation. The abnormal SMC phenotype observed in the Arhgap18(-/-) mice can be partially rescued by pharmacological treatment with the mTORC1 inhibitor rapamycin, which reduces the synthetic and proinflammatory phenotype of Arhgap18-deficient SMC.

CONCLUSION: We have identified ARHGAP18 as a novel protective gene against TAA formation and define an additional target for the future development of treatments to limit TAA pathogenesis.