Translational research depends on the relevance of animal models and how well they replicate human disease. Here, we investigated plasma levels of three important pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNFα, IL-6, and MCP-1), known to be elevated in human pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), and systematically assessed their levels in PAH patients compared to five different rodent models of pulmonary hypertension (PH). A consistent immunoassay platform (Luminex xMAP) and source (Millipore) was used to measure all specimens. PAH patients (n = 29) exhibited significant elevations in all three cytokines (median [IQR] pg/mL; TNFα, 7.0 [4.8-11.7]; IL-6, 9.2 [3.8-17.2]; MCP-1, 109 [65-142]) versus healthy participants (n = 20) (median [IQR] pg/mL; TNFα, 3.0 [2.0-3.6]; IL-6, 1.7 [0.5-7.2]; MCP-1, 79 [49-93]. In contrast, mice with PH established after three weeks of hypoxia (n = 18) or SU5416 plus hypoxia (n = 20) showed no significant change in their plasma cytokine levels versus controls (n = 16), based on three to four independent experiments per group. Similarly, plasma cytokine levels were not elevated in rats with PH established three weeks after monocrotaline (n = 23), eight weeks after SU5416 alone (n = 10) or six to eight weeks after SU5416 plus hypoxia (n = 21) versus controls (n = 36 rats), based on three to eight independent experiments per group. Positive biologic control specimens from sepsis patients (n = 9), cecal-ligation and puncture (CLP)-induced septic mice (n = 6), and lipopolysaccharide-induced septic rats (n = 4) showed robust elevations in all three cytokines. This study suggests that animal models commonly used for the development of novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for PAH may have limited construct validity with respect to markers of systemic immune activation seen in human patients.
Keywords: SU5416; animal models; circulating biomarkers; hypoxia; inflammation; monocrotaline; mouse; rat.