Administration of supplemental oxygen remains a critical clinical intervention for survival of preterm infants with respiratory failure. However, prolonged exposure to hyperoxia can augment pulmonary damage, resulting in developmental lung diseases embodied as hyperoxia-induced acute lung injury and bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). We sought to investigate the role of autophagy in hyperoxia-induced apoptotic cell death in developing lungs. We identified increased autophagy signaling in hyperoxia-exposed mouse lung epithelial-12 cells, freshly isolated fetal type II alveolar epithelial cells, lungs of newborn wild-type mice, and human newborns with respiratory distress syndrome and evolving and established BPD. We found that hyperoxia exposure induces autophagy in a Trp53-dependent manner in mouse lung epithelial-12 cells and in neonatal mouse lungs. Using pharmacological inhibitors and gene silencing techniques, we found that the activation of autophagy, upon hyperoxia exposure, demonstrated a protective role with an antiapoptotic response. Specifically, inhibiting regulatory-associated protein of mechanistic target of rapamycin (RPTOR) in hyperoxia settings, as evidenced by wild-type mice treated with torin2 or mice administered (Rptor) silencing RNA via intranasal delivery or Rptor+/-, limited lung injury by increased autophagy, decreased apoptosis, improved lung architecture, and increased survival. Furthermore, we identified increased protein expression of phospho-beclin1, light chain-3-II and lysosomal-associated membrane protein 1, suggesting altered autophagic flux in the lungs of human neonates with established BPD. Collectively, our study unveils a novel demonstration of enhancing autophagy and antiapoptotic effects, specifically through the inhibition of RPTOR as a potentially useful therapeutic target for the treatment of hyperoxia-induced acute lung injury and BPD in developing lungs.
Keywords: bronchopulmonary dysplasia; cell death; newborn; oxygen; pulmonary.