Background: Adropin is a recently identified protein that has been implicated in the maintenance of energy homeostasis and insulin resistance. Because vascular function and insulin sensitivity are closely related, we hypothesized that adropin may also exert direct effects on the endothelium.
Methods and results: In vitro cell culture models were partnered with an in vivo murine injury model to determine the potential vascular effects of adropin. Adropin was expressed in human umbilical vein and coronary artery endothelial cells (ECs). Adropin-treated endothelial cells exhibited greater proliferation, migration and capillary-like tube formation and less permeability and tumor necrosis factor-α-induced apoptosis. In keeping with a vascular protective effect, adropin stimulated Akt Ser(473) and endothelial nitric oxide (NO) synthase Ser(1177) phosphorylation. The former was abrogated in the presence of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitor LY294002, whereas the latter was attenuated by LY294002 and by mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1 inhibition with PD98059. Together, these findings suggest that adropin regulates NO bioavailability and events via the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-Akt and extracellular signal regulated kinase 1/2 signaling pathways. Adropin markedly upregulated vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (VEGFR2) transcript and protein levels, and in VEGFR2-silenced endothelial cells, adropin failed to induce phosphorylation of endothelial NO synthase, Akt, and extracellular signal regulated kinase 1/2, supporting VEGFR2 as an upstream target of adropin-mediated endothelial NO synthase activation. Last, adropin improved murine limb perfusion and elevated capillary density following induction of hindlimb ischemia.
Conclusions: We report a potential endothelial protective role of adropin that is likely mediated via upregulation of endothelial NO synthase expression through the VEGFR2-phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-Akt and VEGFR2-extracellular signal regulated kinase 1/2 pathways. Adropin represents a novel target to limit diseases characterized by endothelial dysfunction in addition to its favorable metabolic profile.