Clinical pulmonary hypertension is characterized by a sustained elevation in pulmonary arterial pressure. Pulmonary vascular remodeling involves structural changes in the normal architecture of the walls of pulmonary arteries. The process of vascular remodeling can occur as a primary response to injury, or stimulus such as hypoxia, within the resistance vessels of the lung. Alternatively, the changes seen in more proximal vessels may arise secondary to a sustained increase in intravascular pressure. To withstand the chronic increase in intraluminal pressure, the vessel wall becomes thickened and stronger. This "armouring" of the vessel wall with extra-smooth muscle and extracellular matrix leads to a decrease in lumen diameter and reduced capacity for vasodilatation. This maladaptive response results in increased pulmonary vascular resistance and consequently, sustained pulmonary hypertension. The process of pulmonary vascular remodeling involves all layers of the vessel wall and is complicated by the finding that cellular heterogeneity exists within the traditional compartments of the vascular wall: intima, media, and adventitia. In addition, the developmental stage of the organism greatly modifies the response of the pulmonary circulation to injury. This review focuses on the latest advances in our knowledge of these processes as they relate to specific forms of pulmonary hypertension and particularly in the light of recent genetic studies that have identified specific pathways involved in the pathogenesis of severe pulmonary hypertension.
Copyright 2002, Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.