Continuous changes in the length of smooth muscles require a highly organized sarcolemmal structure. Yet, smooth muscle cells also adapt rapidly to altered environmental cues. Their sarcolemmal plasticity must lead to profound changes which affect transmembrane signal transduction as well as contractility. We have established porcine vascular and human visceral smooth muscle cultures of epithelioid and spindle-shaped morphology and determined their plasma membrane properties. Epithelioid cells from both sources contain a higher ratio of cholesterol to glycerophospholipids, and express a less diverse range of lipid-associated annexins. These findings point to a reduction in efficiency of membrane segregation in epithelioid cells. Moreover, compared to spindle-shaped cells, cholesterol is more readily extracted from epithelioid cells with methyl-β-cyclodextrin and its synthesis is more susceptible to inhibition with lovastatin. The inability of epithelioid cells to process vasoactive metabolites, such as angiotensin or nucleotides further indicates that contractile properties are impaired. Phenotypic plasticity extends beyond the loss of smooth muscle cell marker genes. The plasma membrane has undergone profound functional changes which are incompatible with cyclic foreshortening, but might be important in the development of vascular disease. © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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