Division of Cardiovascular Surgery, Toronto General Hospital Research Institute and Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada; Department of Surgery, Division of Cardiac Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada. Electronic address: [Email]
Bicuspid aortic valve (BAV) disease is a congenital abnormality that is associated with ascending aortic aneurysm yet many of the molecular mechanisms remain unknown. To identify novel molecular mechanisms of aneurysm formation we completed microarray analysis of the proximal (severely dilated) and distal (less dilated) regions of the ascending aorta from five patients with BAV. We identified 180 differentially expressed genes, 40 of which were validated by RT-qPCR. Most genes had roles in inflammation and endothelial cell function including cytokines and growth factors, cell surface receptors and the Activator Protein 1 (AP-1) transcription factor family (FOS, FOSB and JUN) which was chosen for further study. AP-1 was differentially expressed within paired BAV aneurysmal samples (n = 8) but not Marfan patients (n = 5). FOS protein was significantly enriched in BAV aortas compared to normal aortas but unexpectedly, ERK1/2 activity, an upstream regulator of FOS was reduced. ERK1/2 activity was restored when BAV smooth muscle cells were cultured in vitro. An mRNA-miRNA network within paired patient samples identified AP-1 as a central hub of miRNA regulation. FOS knockdown in BAV SMCs increased expression of miR-27a, a stretch responsive miRNA. AP-1 and miR-27a were also dysregulated in a mouse model of aortic constriction. In summary, this study identified a central role for AP-1 signaling in BAV aortic dilatation by using paired mRNA-miRNA patient sample. Upstream analysis of AP-1 regulation showed that the ERK1/2 signaling pathway is dysregulated and thus represents a novel chain of mediators of aortic dilatation in BAV which should be considered in future studies.