The contractility and distensibility of renal arterioles are important in the regulation of glomerular filtration. However, little is known regarding the characteristics of contractile proteins in these arterioles. Recently it was demonstrated that vascular smooth muscles contain two types of myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoforms, SM1 and SM2, which are unique molecular markers of smooth muscle cell phenotypes. SM1 is constitutively expressed in all types of smooth muscles, whereas SM2 exists only in mature smooth muscles. We characterized the expression of MHC isoforms as well as the ultrastructural myofilament assembly of renal arteriolar smooth muscles in human, rat and rabbit by immunohistochemical techniques. SM1 and α-smooth muscle actin were localized in both the preglomerular vessels (including the afferent arterioles) and efferent arterioles, whereas SM2 was present only in the preglomerular vessels. Renin-producing cells in the afferent arterioles (juxtaglomerular granular cells, JG cells) were positive for α-smooth muscle actin but negative for SM2. When renin synthesis was stimulated, the more proximal afferent arteriolar smooth muscles turned renin-positive and SM2 disappeared. Glomerular mesangial cells did not show immunoreactivities for SM1, SM2 or α-smooth muscle actin. The difference in MHC isoform expression in these arterioles was also reflected by ultrastructures; the afferent arteriolar smooth muscles contained abundant myofilaments including thick filaments, whereas the efferent arteriolar smooth muscles had a few myofilaments composed only of thin microfilaments. The JG cells displayed a myofilament assembly similar to that in the efferent arteriolar smooth muscles. We conclude from these observations that smooth muscles in pre- and postglomerular arterioles, the glomerular mesangial cells and JG cells differ in phenotypes, suggesting that they may have different contractile properties which may be critically involved in the regulation of glomerular filtration.
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