Rationale: Prostacyclin analogs, used to treat idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH), are assumed to work through prostacyclin (IP) receptors linked to cyclic AMP (cAMP) generation, although the potential to signal through peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ (PPARγ) exists.
Objectives: IP receptor and PPARγ expression may be depressed in IPAH. We wished to determine if pathways remain functional and if analogs continue to inhibit smooth muscle proliferation.
Methods: We used Western blotting to determine IP receptor expression in peripheral pulmonary arterial smooth muscle cells (PASMCs) from normal and IPAH lungs and immunohistochemistry to evaluate IP receptor and PPARγ expression in distal arteries.
Measurements and main results: Cell proliferation and cAMP assays assessed analog responses in human and mouse PASMCs and HEK-293 cells. Proliferative rates of IPAH cells were greater than normal human PASMCs. IP receptor protein levels were lower in PASMCs from patients with IPAH, but treprostinil reduced replication and treprostinil-induced cAMP elevation appeared normal. Responses to prostacyclin analogs were largely dependent on the IP receptor and cAMP in normal PASMCs, although in IP(-/-) receptor cells analogs inhibited growth in a cAMP-independent, PPARγ-dependent manner. In IPAH cells, antiproliferative responses to analogs were insensitive to IP receptor or adenylyl cyclase antagonists but were potentiated by a PPARγ agonist and inhibited (∼ 60%) by the PPARγ antagonist GW9662. This coincided with increased PPARγ expression in the medial layer of acinar arteries.
Conclusions: The antiproliferative effects of prostacyclin analogs are preserved in IPAH despite IP receptor down-regulation and abnormal coupling. PPARγ may represent a previously unrecognized pathway by which these agents inhibit smooth muscle proliferation.