Vascular SMC proliferation is a crucial event in occlusive cardiovascular diseases. PPARα is a nuclear receptor controlling lipid metabolism and inflammation, but its role in the regulation of SMC growth remains to be established. Here, we show that PPARα controls SMC cell-cycle progression at the G1/S transition by targeting the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor and tumor suppressor p16INK4a (p16), resulting in an inhibition of retinoblastoma protein phosphorylation. PPARα activates p16 gene transcription by both binding to a canonical PPAR-response element and interacting with the transcription factor Sp1 at specific proximal Sp1-binding sites of the p16 promoter. In a carotid arterial-injury mouse model, p16 deficiency results in an enhanced SMC proliferation underlying intimal hyperplasia. Moreover, PPARα activation inhibits SMC growth in vivo, and this effect requires p16 expression. These results identify an unexpected role for p16 in SMC cell-cycle control and demonstrate that PPARα inhibits SMC proliferation through p16. Thus, the PPARα/p16 pathway may be a potential pharmacological target for the prevention of cardiovascular occlusive complications of atherosclerosis.
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