While numerous clinical studies have examined the effect of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statin drugs) on calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD), their conflicting results have yielded many questions regarding the nature of statin-valve interactions. One step toward better understanding this relationship is to examine the effects of statin treatment on heart valves on a cellular level. Previous work found statin treatment to have a "paradoxical" effect in vitro, decreasing osteoblastic markers in valvular myofibroblasts, while increasing those same markers in osteoblast precursor cells. This finding that statins may be able to selectively induce bone formation only in a cell type that is already prone to mineralization leads to the question of how statin treatment will affect valvular interstitial cells (VICs), a heterogeneous cell population which is capable of differentiating into an osteoblast-like phenotype, termed obVICs. In this study, we set out to determine whether obVICs would respond to statin treatment in the same manner as myofibroblasts, or if obVICs would increase bone marker expression in a manner similar to a bone-derived cell type. This work was also complemented by a gene expression analysis of calcified human valves from individuals who were or were not taking a statin drug. Porcine VICs were cultured in vitro, with or without 1 uM simvastatin, in either control or mineralization medium, where the control medium yields a heterogeneous population that is predominantly myofibroblasts, while the mineralization medium drives VICs toward an obVIC phenotype. Gene expression analysis included multiple myofibroblastic and osteoblastic markers and was conducted daily over an 8-day time course, yielding information about not only expression levels, but also their temporal dynamics. Gene expression profiles were compared between VICs and an osteoblastic cell line (MC3T3-E1) to assess similarities. Myofibroblastic and osteoblastic genes were also analyzed in aortic valves from human patients (+/- statin) undergoing aortic valve replacement surgery. Statin treatment increased osteoblastic gene expression in VICs cultured in mineralization medium (obVICs), but the same effect was not obtained in control medium. This finding suggests that VICs are capable of responding to statin treatment in a manner similar to bone cells, but only when VIC cultures are driven toward an osteoblastic phenotype. The MC3T3-E1 cells also increased osteoblastic gene expression upon statin treatment, although their basal level of osteogenic activity was substantially greater than that found in any of the obVIC cultures. Analysis of human valve data is ongoing. Overall, this study suggests that different subpopulations of VICs exhibit different and temporally dynamic responses to statin treatment, further complicating the ability to predict a clinical effect of statin drugs on CAVD.


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  • Accepted: 30 May 2012
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