Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a progressive disease with a high morbidity and mortality rate. Despite important advances in the field, the precise mechanisms leading to PH are not yet understood. Main features of PH are loss of vasodilatory response, the activation of proliferative and antiapoptotic pathways leading to pulmonary vascular remodeling and obstruction, elevated pressure and right ventricular hypertrophy, resulting in right ventricular failure and death. Experimental studies suggest that endothelial dysfunction may be the key underlying feature in PH. Caveolin-1, a major protein constituent of caveolae, interacts with several signaling molecules including the ones implicated in PH and modulates them. Disruption and progressive loss of endothelial caveolin-1 with reciprocal activation of proliferative pathways occur before the onset of PH, and the rescue of caveolin-1 inhibits proliferative pathways and attenuates PH. Extensive endothelial damage/loss occurs during the progression of the disease with subsequent enhanced expression of caveolin-1 in smooth muscle cells. This caveolin-1 in smooth muscle cells switches from being an antiproliferative factor to a proproliferative one and participates in cell proliferation and cell migration, possibly leading to irreversible PH. In contrast, the disruption of endothelial caveolin-1 is not observed in the hypoxia-induced PH, a reversible form of PH. However, proliferative pathways are activated in this model, indicating caveolin-1 dysfunction. Thus disruption or dysfunction of endothelial caveolin-1 leads to PH, and the status of caveolin-1 may determine the reversibility versus irreversibility of PH. This article reviews the role of caveolin-1 and cell membrane integrity in the pathogenesis and progression of PH.
Keywords: caveolin-1; endothelial cells; pulmonary hypertension; smooth muscle cells.