The vascular extracellular matrix (ECM) is essential for the structural integrity of the vessel wall and also serves as a substrate for the binding and retention of secreted products of vascular cells as well as molecules coming from the circulation. Although proteomics has been previously applied to vascular tissues, few studies have specifically targeted the vascular ECM and its associated proteins. Thus, its detailed composition remains to be characterized. In this study, we describe a methodology for the extraction of extracellular proteins from human aortas and their identification by proteomics. The approach is based on (a) effective decellularization to enrich for scarce extracellular proteins, (b) successful solubilization and deglycosylation of ECM proteins, and (c) relative estimation of protein abundance using spectral counting. Our three-step extraction approach resulted in the identification of 103 extracellular proteins of which one-third have never been reported in the proteomics literature of vascular tissues. In particular, three glycoproteins (podocan, sclerostin, and agrin) were identified for the first time in human aortas at the protein level. We also identified extracellular adipocyte enhancer-binding protein 1, the cartilage glycoprotein asporin, and a previously hypothetical protein, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) spondin. Moreover, our methodology allowed us to screen for proteolysis in the aortic samples based on the identification of proteolytic enzymes and their corresponding degradation products. For instance, we were able to detect matrix metalloproteinase-9 by mass spectrometry and relate its presence to degradation of fibronectin in a clinical specimen. We expect this proteomics methodology to further our understanding of the composition of the vascular extracellular environment, shed light on ECM remodeling and degradation, and provide insights into important pathological processes, such as plaque rupture, aneurysm formation, and restenosis.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Analytical Chemistry
- Molecular Biology