Selective BMP-9 Inhibition Partially Protects Against Experimental Pulmonary Hypertension
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Although many familial cases of pulmonary arterial hypertension exhibit an autosomal dominant mode of inheritance with the majority having mutations in essential constituents of the BMP (bone morphogenetic protein) signaling, the specific contribution of the long-term loss of signal transduction triggered by the BMPR2 (type 2 BMP receptor) remains poorly characterized.
To investigate the role of BMP9, the main ligand of ALK1 (Activin receptor-like kinase 1)/BMPR2 heterocomplexes, in pulmonary hypertension.
Method and Results:
The absence of BMP9 in Bmp9−/− mice and its inhibition in C57BL/6 mice using neutralizing anti-BMP9 antibodies substantially prevent against chronic hypoxia-induced pulmonary hypertension judged by right ventricular systolic pressure measurement, right ventricular hypertrophy, and pulmonary distal arterial muscularization. In agreement with these observations, we found that the BMP9/BMP10 ligand trap ALK1ECD administered in monocrotaline or Sugen/hypoxia (SuHx) rats substantially attenuate proliferation of pulmonary vascular cells, inflammatory cell infiltration, and regresses established pulmonary hypertension in rats. Our data obtained in human pulmonary endothelial cells derived from controls and pulmonary arterial hypertension patients indicate that BMP9 can affect the balance between endothelin-1, apelin, and adrenomedullin. We reproduced these in vitro observations in mice chronically exposed to hypoxia, with Bmp9−/− mice exhibiting lower mRNA levels of the vasoconstrictor peptide ET-1 (endothelin-1) and higher levels of the 2 potent vasodilator factors apelin and ADM (adrenomedullin) compared with Bmp9+/+ littermates.
Taken together, our data indicate that the loss of BMP9, by deletion or inhibition, has beneficial effects against pulmonary hypertension onset and progression.
Pulmonary endothelial dysfunction associated to pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a key pathogenetic mechanism that could be detrimental for disease susceptibility and development of pulmonary vascular remodeling.1–3 Despite recent progress in the treatment of PAH,4 most patients still die from the disease or fail to respond adequately to medical therapy with a 5-year survival of 59%.5 Current treatments can relieve some PAH symptoms and slow the progress of the disease in some patients, but they have a limited impact on the progressive pulmonary vascular remodeling that eventually culminates in right heart failure. Since 2000, heterozygous germline mutations in the Bone MorphogeneticProtein Receptor type 2 (BMPR2) gene have been identified as critical genetic factors predisposing to pulmonary vascular remodeling and PAH development with low penetrance.6–8 Still, the specific contribution of the long-term loss of signal transduction triggered by this signaling pathway remains poorly characterized.
Editorial, see p 822
Meet the First Author, see p 818
Among BMPs, BMP9 and BMP10 are 2 high-affinity ligands for ALK1 (Activin receptor-like kinase 1) and BMPR2 present in a heterotetrameric complex on pulmonary endothelial cells (ECs),9 and thereby are key actors of vascular development and homeostasis.10 Perturbation in the BMP9/BMP10 signaling pathway has emerged as essential in endothelial (dys)function and vascular remodeling, in particular in PAH, and hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia.11,12 In line with this notion, several works have highlighted a potential role for this pathway in the regulation of vascular tone13 and in the modulation of ET-1 (endothelin-1) 14,15 and apelin, 2 potent vasoreactive mediators for the pulmonary vasculature.16,17 Even if Bmp9-KO mice are viable and present no obvious defects, these mice exhibit an altered lymphatic maturation that leads to drainage deficiency.18 Although new biomedical therapeutics targeting BMPs or the BMP signaling pathway hold promise in future treatment strategies for PAH and other life-threatening diseases, our current understanding of the molecular signaling pathways activated by BMPs and their exact pathogenic roles remains limited.11
Therefore, we hypothesized that long-term loss of endothelial BMP9 signaling in rodents could alter pulmonary vascular tone and remodeling, thereby reducing their susceptibility to pulmonary hypertension.
The authors declare that all supporting data are available within the article and its Online Data Supplement.
Because of space limitations, a detailed description of the Materials and Methods is presented in the Online Data Supplement.
Mice Deficient in BMP9 (Bmp9−/−) are Less Susceptible to Chronic Hypoxia-Induced Pulmonary Hypertension
To gain information about the role of BMP9 in the susceptibility of mice to develop pulmonary hypertension (PH), we used mice congenitally deficient in the expression of the BMP9 gene (Gdf2). The loss of active circulating BMP9 levels in Bmp9−/− mice was confirmed using a BMP responsive luciferase reporter assay (Figure 1A). Consistent with these findings, a 2-fold decrease in phosphorylated (p)-Smad1/5/8 and p-P38 were found in lungs of Bmp9−/− versus Bmp9+/+ littermates and no compensatory upregulation of other BMP family members was present in these mice deficient in BMP9 (Online Figure I). Bmp9−/− mice in the C57BL/6 background are viable and present no obvious defects except a defect in lymphatic maturation.17,18 Our present findings indicate that Bmp9−/− mice are less susceptible to pulmonary vascular remodeling than Bmp9+/+ littermates when exposed to chronic hypoxia. Indeed, the elevations in right ventricular systolic pressure (Figure 1B) and right ventricular hypertrophy right ventricle (RV/left ventricle+septum weight ratio) (Figure 1C) following chronic hypoxia were lower in the Bmp9−/− than the Bmp9+/+ mice. No significant differences were observed in heart rate or systemic pressures between Bmp9−/− and Bmp9+/+ mice (heart rate: 320±34 versus 324 ±44 bpm, respectively, NS; systemic blood pressure: 110±20 versus 105±18, n=10, respectively, NS). Similar findings have also been observed with intravenous administration of the active monocrotaline metabolite (monocrotaline pyrrole) to Bmp9−/− and Bmp9+/+ mice (Online Figure II). Following chronic hypoxia, the less pronounced right ventricular systolic pressure elevation in the Bmp9−/− was also associated with a decreased number and thickness of muscularized distal pulmonary arteries versus Bmp9+/+ mice (Figure 1D). Consistent with these observations, we did not observe a significant increase in the number of PCNA+ (proliferating cell nuclear antigen positive) cells or an accumulation of F4/80+ cells (monocytes/macrophages) in the perivascular area of muscularized vessels in Bmp9−/− mice under normoxic versus hypoxic conditions in contrast to Bmp9+/+ mice (Figure 1E).
Administration of Neutralizing Anti-BMP9 Antibodies in Mice Prevents Chronic Hypoxia-Induced Pulmonary Hypertension
To further demonstrate the role of BMP9 in the susceptibility of mice to develop PH, we study the effect of suppressing BMP9 action in adult C57BL/6 mice (wild type) with neutralizing anti-BMP9 antibodies (kindly obtained from Dr M. Yan). Weekly administration of neutralizing anti-BMP9 antibodies (5 mg/kg, IP) after hypoxia exposure completely inhibited BMP circulating ALK1-dependent activity (Figure 2A). Consistent with our hypothesis and our findings obtained in Bmp9 deficient mice, we found that C57BL/6 mice chronically exposed to hypoxia and treated with neutralizing anti-BMP9 antibodies were less susceptible to the development of chronic hypoxia–induced PH than C57BL/6 mice treated with IgG. The severity of the disease was assessed by right ventricular systolic pressure measurement (Figure 2B), by right ventricular hypertrophy (Figure 2C), and by pulmonary distal arterial muscularization (Figure 2D). We also noted that cell proliferation and the degree of inflammatory cell infiltration were significantly decreased in lungs from C57BL/6 mice chronically exposed to hypoxia and treated with neutralizing anti-BMP9 antibodies when compared with lungs of C57BL/6 mice chronically exposed to hypoxia and treated with IgG (Figure 2E).
Efficacy of Treatment With the Soluble Extracellular ALK1 Domain (ALK1ECD) on the Progression of Established PH in 2 Complementary and Well-Established Models of Severe PH in Rats
Next, these results prompted us to test the efficacy of the soluble extracellular ALK1 domain (ALK1ECD), a ligand trap targeting ALK1’s ligands thus both BMP9 and BMP10,19 on the development of monocrotaline (MCT)-induced PH in Wistar rats. Treatment with ALK1ECD (4 mg/kg, IP) was started 1 week after a subcutaneous MCT injection and was repeated 1 week later (3 mg/kg, IP; Figure 3A). We first validated that the weekly ALK1ECD administration completely inhibited BMP circulating ALK1-dependent activity (Figure 3B). On day 21, in MCT-injected rats treated with human IgG, a marked increase in mean pulmonary arterial pressure, total pulmonary vascular resistance, RV/(left ventricle+septum) ratio (Figure 3C), percentage medial wall thickness, and numbers of muscularized distal pulmonary arteries (Figure 3D) were found compared with controls. However, MCT-injected rats receiving ALK1ECD exhibited reduced mean pulmonary arterial pressure, total pulmonary vascular resistance, and RV/(left ventricle+septum) ratio as compared with MCT-injected rats receiving IgG (Figure 3C). Consistent with these results, the percentages of medial wall thickness and of muscularized distal pulmonary arteries were substantially decreased in MCT-injected rats receiving ALK1ECD when compared with MCT-injected rats receiving IgG (Figure 3D). In addition, we found a substantial decrease in collagen deposition in the RV myocardium of MCT-injected rats receiving ALK1ECD when compared with MCT-injected rats receiving IgG, an observation that is consistent with the more preserved cardiac function observed in this ALK1ECD-treated rats (Online Figure IIIA-B). Interestingly, no significant differences were found in the number of PCNA+ and CD68+ (monocyte/macrophages) cells in pulmonary vessel walls in lungs of MCT-injected rats receiving ALK1ECD as compared to lungs of control rats receiving IgG (Figure 3E).
To validate our findings obtained in the MCT rat model, weekly treatments of Sugen-hypoxia (SuHx) rats with ALK1ECD or IgG were next performed (Figure 4). Treatment with ALK1ECD (4 mg/kg, IP) was started 5 weeks post-SU5416 injection and was repeated 1 and 2 weeks later (3 mg/kg, IP; Figure 4A). We first validated that the weekly ALK1ECD administration completely inhibited BMP circulating ALK1-dependent activity (Figure 4B). Eight weeks post-SU5416 injection, SuHx rats develop severe experimental PH, as reflected by a marked increase in values of mean pulmonary arterial pressure total pulmonary vascular resistance, and Fulton index (Figure 4C). Although only a trend towards lower mean pulmonary arterial pressure values was found, SuHx rats treated with ALK1ECD exhibit less severe PH when compared with SuHx rat-treated with IgG, as reflected by significantly lower values of total pulmonary vascular resistance and Fulton index (Figure 4C). Consistent with these findings and those obtained in the MCT rat model, we also noted a beneficial effect of ALK1ECD treatments on the pulmonary arterial muscularization (Figure 4D), numbers of PCNA+ and CD68+ cells per vessel (Figure 4E), as well as on RV function and collagen deposition in the RV myocardium (Online Figure IIIC-D) when compared with SuHx rat-treated with IgG.
BMP9 Regulates In Vitro and In Vivo the Balance of Key Vascular Tone Regulators
BMP9 has been described as a potential vasoconstriction factor in the chick chorioallantoic membrane assay13 and as a BMP ligand that can down-regulate the expression of the vasodilator factor apelin16,17 and increase the vasoconstrictor peptide ET-1.14,15 An in silico reanalysis of the microarray data (accession number E-MTAB-2495) obtained from Long et al20 in which, human pulmonary ECs were stimulated with 1 ng/mL of recombinant BMP9 for 4 hours, revealed 2 key pathways that are susceptible to regulate vascular contraction, namely the cGMP-PKG signaling pathway” and the “Vascular smooth muscle contraction pathway. Based on these sets of genes and their known effectors, we set-up a list of genes that allowed us to identify 23 genes that were significantly regulated by BMP9 (Online Figure IV), including apelin and ADM (adrenomedullin), 2 potent vasodilator factors. We thus investigated whether recombinant human BMP9 could alter the balance between pulmonary endothelium-derived relaxing factors and contracting factors in vitro using freshly isolated pulmonary ECs established from lung tissue obtained from control and PAH patients (both idiopathic and BMPR2 mutation carriers). Interestingly, we found that recombinant human BMP9 induced a dose-dependent production of ET-1, and a dose-dependent decrease in the production of apelin and ADM in control pulmonary ECs (Figure 5A). A similar profile was observed in pulmonary ECs derived from PAH patients except for ADM level that was already significantly reduced at the basal level in comparison to control cells (Figure 5A). Based on these in vitro findings, we then assessed the levels of the synthesis of potent vasoreactive factors in lungs of Bmp9−/− and Bmp9+/+ mice under normoxic and hypoxic conditions. Consistent with our findings showing that Bmp9−/− mice are less susceptible to chronic hypoxia-induced PH, we found a decreased ET-1 mRNA level and an increased apelin and ADM mRNA levels in Bmp9−/− mice chronically exposed to hypoxia compared with Bmp9+/+ mice chronically exposed to hypoxia (Figure 5B). Since these mediators can regulate the function and the thickness of the underlying smooth muscle cells and because myosin light chain is a major regulatory molecule for smooth muscle contraction, we next studied its expression in lungs of Bmp9−/− mice under normoxic and hypoxic conditions. Interestingly, we found that myosin light chain protein expression is decreased in lungs of Bmp9−/− mice chronically exposed to hypoxia compared with Bmp9+/+ mice chronically exposed to hypoxia (Figure 5C and 5D), a phenomenon that was associated with decreased activity of the ROCK (Rho/Rho-associated protein kinase) signaling pathway (Online Figure V). Consistent with these findings obtained in lungs of Bmp9−/− mice, a substantial decrease in myosin light chain protein expression was found in lungs of MCT- and SuHx rats receiving ALK1ECD when compared with lungs of MCT- and SuHx rats receiving IgG (Figure 5E and 5F).
Our study identifies BMP9, also known as GDF2 (growth and differentiation factor 2), as a major factor for controlling functions of pulmonary vascular cells (Figure 6). Using 3 different approaches of suppressing BMP9 action in rodents (Bmp9−/− mice, administration of neutralizing anti-BMP9 antibodies or of ALK1ECD ligand trap for BMP9 and BMP10 in rats) in different complementary and well-established animal models of PH, we demonstrate that the selective loss of BMP9 partially protects against experimental pulmonary hypertension.
These results seem at first glance counter-intuitive, as it would have been expected that less ligands for the BMPR2 receptor should mimic the loss of BMPR2 signaling found in PAH patients. In accordance with this hypothesis, it was recently proposed to enhance this pathway by exogenous BMP9 in PAH.20 Even if there are some arguments that support this notion,21–24 our functional data indicate the opposite and further illustrate that BMP signaling is complex and involves many ligands and many receptor combinations that could explain these unexpected results, especially in the context of PAH. Indeed, it has been found that BMPR2 mutations could alter BMP signaling in a BMP ligand- or receptor-specific manner.25–27 During the writing of this article, it was published that BMP9 could be a sensitive biomarker that segregates portopulmonary hypertension from other forms of PAH.28 Together, these results clearly support that BMP9 signaling pathway is involved in PAH development but also that the molecular mechanisms involved in PAH are complex.
BMP9 is mainly produced by the liver and circulates in blood under a biologically active form and has been proposed to act as a vascular quiescence factor.13 Several works also support a potential role for this pathway in the regulation of vascular tone. Indeed, it was shown by our group and others that BMP9 induces the expression of ET-1, a strong vasoconstrictor,14,15 and decreases the expression of apelin, a potent vasodilator for the pulmonary vasculature.16,17 We also previously showed that addition of BMP9 induced vasoconstriction in the chicken chorionallantoic membrane.13 So, one hypothesis that could explain why the loss of BMP9 protects from PH development is that BMP9 could act as a potent modulator of vasoconstriction in the pulmonary circulation. This hypothesis is consistent with the dilation phenotype observed in Alk1 ± or Eng ± mice29,30 or Alk1 mutants, vbg, in zebrafish.31 This hypothesis is further supported by the fact that we found that Bmp9−/− pups presented a partial reopening of the ductus arteriosus just after birth that could because of a defect in vasoconstriction.32 Interestingly, patent ductus arteriosus is a serious congenital heart disease that can lead to irreversible pulmonary hypertension.33 We confirm here the downregulation of apelin and show, for the first time, the downregulation of adrenomedullin by BMP9, 2 known critical actors that can impair pulmonary endothelial function.34,35
We also confirm here that BMP9 induces a dose-dependent ET-1 expression in human pulmonary ECs and regulate its lung production in rodents. However, although BMP9 and other BMPs have been shown to induce ET-1,14,15 unexpectedly BMPR2 downregulation is also associated with an increase in ET-1 expression,15,36 supporting the notion that BMP9 stimulated ET-1 production by pulmonary ECs is not sufficient alone to lead to PH development and strengthening the evidence for the importance of BMP receptor balance in the control of vascular tone.
The role of BMP9 has recently been studied in a bronchopulmonary dysplasia model induced by chronic exposure to hyperoxia in neonatal rats. Consistent with our present findings, BMP9 treatment has been found to improve aberrant alveolar development and reduced lung inflammation and fibrosis but did not improve aberrant vascularization (arterial medial wall thickness and muscularization) and right ventricular hypertrophy.37 In line with this notion, BMP9 and BMP10 can synergize with TNF-α (tumor necrosis factor α) to induce the upregulation of endothelial selectins and adhesion molecules and the secretion of various key proinflammatory mediators,38,39 and are, therefore, likely to contribute to the proinflammatory signature of the dysfunctional endothelium in PAH.40
In the present study, we provide definitive evidence that the selective BMP9 loss or inhibition partially prevent and protects against experimental pulmonary hypertension. In addition, this study offers important physiopathological insights into the role of BMP9 in the synthesis of potent vasoreactive factors by the pulmonary endothelium in vitro and in vivo, namely ET-1, apelin, and adrenomedullin and may have important implications for human PAH.
activin receptor-like kinase 1
bone morphogenetic protein receptor type 2
mean pulmonary arterial pressure
pulmonary arterial hypertension
proliferating cell nuclear antigen
Rho/Rho-associated protein kinase
total pulmonary vascular resistance
We thank Dr M. Yan (Genentech Inc, San Francisco) for kindly providing anti-BMP9 and ALK1ECD reagents. We also thank Professor F. Soubrier and Dr M. Eyries (Laboratoire d’Oncogénétique et Angiogénétique Moléculaire, Groupe Hospitalier Pitié-Salpétrière, Paris, France) for the genetic analysis of pulmonary arterial hypertension patients.
Sources of Funding
This research was supported by grants from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM), the University of Grenoble, the University of Paris-Sud and the University Paris-Saclay, the Marie Lannelongue Hospital, the CEA (Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives, Direction de la Recherche Fondamentale (DRF)/Institut de Biosciences et Biotechnologies de Grenoble (BIG)/Laboratoire Biologie du Cancer et de l’Infection (BCI)), the French National Agency for Research (ANR) grant no. ANR-17-CE14-0006 (Be9inPH), the Fondation de la Recherche Médicale (FRM) grant no. DEQ20150331712 (Equipe FRM 2015), and in part by the Département Hospitalo-Universitaire Thorax Innovation (TORINO), the Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP), Service de Pneumologie, Centre de Référence de l’Hypertension Pulmonaire Sévère, the LabEx Laboratoire d’Excellence en Recherche sur le Médicament et l’Innovation Thérapeutique (LERMIT; grant no ANR-10-LABX-0033), the French pulmonary arterial hypertension patient association (HTAP France) and the french Fonds de Dotation Recherche en Santé Respiratoire–(FRSR)–Fondation du Souffle (FdS), the Ligues Départementales contre le Cancer de la Loire et de la Savoie, the association Maladie de Rendu-Osler (AMRO-HHT France), the Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer (ARC). C. Phan is supported by the FRSR–FdS and J. Bordenave is supported by the FRM.
In the past 3 years, M. Humbert and L. Savale report grants, personal fees, and nonfinancial support from Actelion, Pfizer, Bayer, and GlaxoSmithKline, MSD, outside of the submitted work. The other authors report no conflicts.
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Novelty and Significance
What Is Known?
Autosomal dominant mutations in the BMPR2 (type 2 BMP receptor), ACVLR1 (ALK1), GDF2 (BMP9), and in the BMP10 genes predispose to heritable pulmonary arterial hypertension.
BMP9 and BMP10 are 2 high affinity ligands for ALK1 (activin receptor-like kinase 1) and BMPRII present in a heterotetrameric complex on pulmonary endothelial cells.
Perturbation in the BMP9/BMP10 signaling pathway have emerged as essential in endothelial (dys)function and vascular remodeling.
What New Information Does This Article Contribute?
Using 3 different approaches of suppressing BMP9 action in rodents, we provide evidence that the selective loss or inhibition of BMP9 does not predispose, but partially prevent or protect against experimental pulmonary hypertension.
We show that BMP9 regulates the endothelial synthesis/release of potent vasoreactive factors in vitro and in vivo, namely endothelin-1, apelin, and adrenomedullin.
These findings offer new insight into the complexity of endothelial BMP9 signaling and may have important implications for human pulmonary arterial hypertension. Our data support the notion that blockade of BMP9 signaling can protect the pulmonary endothelium and attenuate the structural and functional remodeling of the lung vasculature. Further studies are needed to better understand the differences between experimental models and the human predisposition to pulmonary arterial hypertension identified in subjects carrying BMP9 germline mutations. The apparent ambivalent role of the BMP9/BMP10 signaling pathway should stimulate work to better understand this feature and the underlying mechanisms.