In different rodent models of hypertension, vascular voltage-gated L-type calcium channel (CaL) current and vascular tone is increased because of increased expression of the noncardiac form of the CaL (Cav1.2). The objective of this study was to develop a small interfering RNA (siRNA) expression system against the noncardiac form of Cav1.2 to reduce its expression in vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). siRNAs expressing plasmids and appropriate controls were constructed and first screened in human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells cotransfected with a rat Cav1.2 expression vector. The most effective gene silencing was achieved with a modified mir-30a-based short hairpin RNA (shRNAmir) driven by the cytomegalovirus promoter. In A7r5 cells, a vascular smooth muscle cell line, two copies of shRNAmir driven by a chimeric VSMC-specific enhancer/promoter reduced endogenous Cav1.2 expression by 61% and decreased the CaL current carried by barium by 47%. Moreover, the chimeric vascular smooth muscle-specific enhancer/promoter displayed almost no activity in non-VSMCs (PC-12 and HEK 293). Because the proposed siRNA was designed to only target the noncardiac form of Cav1.2, it did not affect the CaL expression and function in cultured cardiomyocytes, even when driven by a stronger cytomegalovirus promoter. In conclusion, vascular Cav1.2 expression and function were effectively reduced by VSMC-specific delivery of the noncardiac form of Cav1.2 siRNA without similarly affecting cardiac CaL expression and function. When coupled with a viral vector, this molecular intervention in vivo may provide a novel long-term vascular-specific gene therapy for hypertension
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