Regulation of alveolar epithelial cell survival by the ACE-2/angiotensin 1-7/Mas axis

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2011 Sep;301(3):L269-74. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00222.2010. Epub 2011 Jun 10.


Earlier work from this laboratory demonstrated that apoptosis of alveolar epithelial cells (AECs) requires autocrine generation of angiotensin (ANG) II. More recent studies showed that angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (ACE-2), which degrades ANGII to form ANG1-7, is protective but severely downregulated in human and experimental lung fibrosis. Here it was theorized that ACE-2 and its product ANG1-7 might therefore regulate AEC apoptosis. To evaluate this hypothesis, the AEC cell line MLE-12 and primary cultures of rat AECs were exposed to the profibrotic apoptosis inducers ANGII or bleomycin (Bleo). Markers of apoptosis (caspase-9 or -3 activation and nuclear fragmentation), steady-state ANGII and ANG1-7, and JNK phosphorylation were measured thereafter. In the absence of Bleo, inhibition of ACE-2 by small interfering RNA or by a competitive inhibitor (DX600 peptide) caused a reciprocal increase in autocrine ANGII and corresponding decrease in ANG1-7 in cell culture media (both P < 0.05) and, moreover, induced AEC apoptosis. At baseline (without inhibitor), ANG1-7 in culture media was 10-fold higher than ANGII (P < 0.01). Addition of purified ANGII or bleomycin-induced caspase activation, nuclear fragmentation, and JNK phosphorylation in cultured AECs. However, preincubation with ANG1-7 (0.1 μM) prevented JNK phosphorylation and apoptosis. Moreover, pretreatment with A779, a specific blocker of the ANG1-7 receptor mas, prevented ANG1-7 blockade of JNK phosphorylation, caspase activation, and nuclear fragmentation. These data demonstrate that ACE-2 regulates AEC survival by balancing the proapoptotic ANGII and its antiapoptotic degradation product ANG1-7. They also suggest that ANG1-7 inhibits AEC apoptosis through the ANG1-7 receptor mas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin I / physiology*
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Bleomycin / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Bleomycin / pharmacology
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects*
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Peptide Fragments / physiology*
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A / physiology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / physiology*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology
  • Rats
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / physiology*


  • Peptide Fragments
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • proto-oncogene proteins c-mas-1
  • Bleomycin
  • Angiotensin I
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A
  • ACE2 protein, human
  • Ace2 protein, mouse
  • Ace2 protein, rat
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • angiotensin I (1-7)