Open Access Research

TNF-α promotes cerebral pericyte remodeling in vitro, via a switch from α1 to α2 integrins

Ulrich Tigges, Amin Boroujerdi, Jennifer V Welser-Alves and Richard Milner*

Author Affiliations

Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA, 92037, USA

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Journal of Neuroinflammation 2013, 10:33  doi:10.1186/1742-2094-10-33

Published: 1 March 2013



There is increasing evidence to suggest that pericytes play a crucial role in regulating the remodeling state of blood vessels. As cerebral pericytes are embedded within the extracellular matrix (ECM) of the vascular basal lamina, it is important to understand how individual ECM components influence pericyte remodeling behavior, and how cytokines regulate these events.


The influence of different vascular ECM substrates on cerebral pericyte behavior was examined in assays of cell adhesion, migration, and proliferation. Pericyte expression of integrin receptors was examined by flow cytometry. The influence of cytokines on pericyte functions and integrin expression was also examined, and the role of specific integrins in mediating these effects was defined by function-blocking antibodies. Expression of pericyte integrins within remodeling cerebral blood vessels was analyzed using dual immunofluorescence (IF) of brain sections derived from the animal model of multiple sclerosis, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).


Fibronectin and collagen I promoted pericyte proliferation and migration, but heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG) had an inhibitory influence on pericyte behavior. Flow cytometry showed that cerebral pericytes express high levels of α5 integrin, and lower levels of α1, α2, and α6 integrins. The pro-inflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α strongly promoted pericyte proliferation and migration, and concomitantly induced a switch in pericyte integrins, from α1 to α2 integrin, the opposite to the switch seen when pericytes differentiated. Inhibition studies showed that α2 integrin mediates pericyte adhesion to collagens, and significantly, function blockade of α2 integrin abrogated the pro-modeling influence of TNF-α. Dual-IF on brain tissue with the pericyte marker NG2 showed that while α1 integrin was expressed by pericytes in both stable and remodeling vessels, pericyte expression of α2 integrin was strongly induced in remodeling vessels in EAE brain.


Our results suggest a model in which ECM constituents exert an important influence on pericyte remodeling status. In this model, HSPG restricts pericyte remodeling in stable vessels, but during inflammation, TNF-α triggers a switch in pericyte integrins from α1 to α2, thereby stimulating pericyte proliferation and migration on collagen. These results thus define a fundamental molecular mechanism in which TNF-α stimulates pericyte remodeling in an α2 integrin-dependent manner.

Pericyte; Adhesion; Migration; Extracellular matrix; Integrin; Vascular remodeling