Spontaneous pulmonary hypertension in genetic mouse models of natural killer cell deficiency

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2018 Dec 1;315(6):L977-L990. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00477.2017. Epub 2018 Sep 20.


Natural killer (NK) cells are cytotoxic innate lymphoid cells with an established role in the regulation of vascular structure in pregnancy and cancer. Impaired NK cell function has been identified in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a disease of obstructive vascular remodeling in the lungs, as well as in multiple rodent models of disease. However, the precise contribution of NK cell impairment to the initiation and progression of PAH remains unknown. Here, we report the development of spontaneous pulmonary hypertension in two independent genetic models of NK cell dysfunction, including Nfil3-/- mice, which are deficient in NK cells due to the absence of the NFIL3 transcription factor, and Ncr1-Gfp mice, which lack the NK activating receptor NKp46. Mouse models of NK insufficiency exhibited increased right ventricular systolic pressure and muscularization of the pulmonary arteries in the absence of elevated left ventricular end-diastolic pressure, indicating that the development of pulmonary hypertension was not secondary to left heart dysfunction. In cases of severe NK cell impairment or loss, a subset of mice failed to develop pulmonary hypertension and instead exhibited reduced systemic blood pressure, demonstrating an extension of vascular abnormalities beyond the pulmonary circulation into the systemic vasculature. In both mouse models, the development of PAH was linked to elevated interleukin-23 production, whereas systemic hypotension in Ncr1-Gfp mice was accompanied by a loss of angiopoietin-2. Together, these results support an important role for NK cells in the regulation of pulmonary and systemic vascular function and the pathogenesis of PAH.

Keywords: Th17; angiopoietin-2; interleukin-23; natural killer cells; pulmonary hypertension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / genetics*
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / pathology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / pathology*
  • Lung / pathology
  • Mice
  • Natural Cytotoxicity Triggering Receptor 1 / genetics
  • Pulmonary Artery / pathology
  • Vascular Remodeling / genetics


  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • Natural Cytotoxicity Triggering Receptor 1