Background & aims: Hepatopulmonary syndrome (HPS), defined as intrapulmonary vasodilation, occurs in 10%-30% of cirrhotics and increases mortality. In a rat model of HPS induced by common bile duct ligation (CBDL), but not thioacetamide (TAA)-induced nonbiliary cirrhosis, lung capillary density increases, monocytes accumulate in the microvasculature, and signaling factors in the angiogenesis pathway (Akt and endothelial nitric oxide synthase [eNOS]) are activated. Pentoxifylline (PTX) directly decreases lung endothelial Akt and eNOS activation, blocks intravascular monocyte accumulation, and improves experimental HPS; we evaluated whether pulmonary angiogenesis develops in this model.
Methods: TAA- and PTX-treated animals were evaluated following CBDL. Lung angiogenesis was assessed by quantifying factor VIII-positive microvessels and levels of von Willebrand factor (vWf), vascular endothelial cadherin (VE-cadherin), and proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). Angiogenic factors including phospho-Akt, phospho-eNOS, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A, and phospho-VEGF receptor-2 (p-VEGFR-2) were compared and monocyte accumulation was assessed.
Results: Following CBDL, but not TAA exposure, rats developed HPS that was temporally correlated with increased numbers of lung microvessel; increased levels of vWf, VE-cadherin and PCNA; and activation of Akt and eNOS. Angiogenesis was accompanied by increased pulmonary VEGF-A and p-VEGFR-2 levels, with VEGF-A staining in accumulated intravascular monocytes and alveolar endothelial cells. Following CBDL, PTX-treated rats had reduced numbers of microvessels, reduced lung monocyte accumulation, downregulation of pulmonary angiogenic factors, and reduced symptoms of HPS.
Conclusions: A specific increase in pulmonary angiogenesis occurs as experimental HPS develops, accompanied by activation of VEGF-A-associated angiogenic pathways. PTX decreases the angiogenesis, reduces the symptoms of HPS, and downregulates VEGF-A mediated pathways.