Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a silent, progressive disease with a high mortality and an increasing prevalence with aging. Smooth muscle cell (SMC) dysfunction contributes to gradual dilatation and eventual rupture of the aorta. Here we studied phenotypic characteristics in SMC cultured from end-stage human AAA (≥5 cm) and cells cultured from a porcine carotid artery (PCA) model of early and end-stage aneurysm. Human AAA-SMC presented a secretory phenotype and expressed elevated levels of the differentiation marker miR-145 (2.2-fold, p < 0.001) and the senescence marker SIRT-1 (1.3-fold, p < 0.05), features not recapitulated in aneurysmal PCA-SMC. Human and end-stage porcine aneurysmal cells were frequently multi-nucleated (3.9-fold, p < 0.001, and 1.8-fold, p < 0.01, respectively, vs. control cells) and displayed an aberrant nuclear morphology. Human AAA-SMC exhibited higher levels of the DNA damage marker γH2AX (3.9-fold, p < 0.01, vs. control SMC). These features did not correlate with patients' chronological age and are therefore potential markers for pathological premature vascular aging. Early-stage PCA-SMC (control and aneurysmal) were indistinguishable from one another across all parameters. The principal limitation of human studies is tissue availability only at the end stage of the disease. Refinement of a porcine bioreactor model would facilitate the study of temporal modulation of SMC behaviour during aneurysm development and potentially identify therapeutic targets to limit AAA progression.

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