Human PAH is characterized by a pattern of lipid-related insulin resistance

JCI Insight. 2019 Jan 10;4(1):e123611. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.123611.


Background: Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a deadly disease of the small pulmonary vasculature with an increased prevalence of insulin resistance (IR). Insulin regulates both glucose and lipid homeostasis. We sought to quantify glucose- and lipid-related IR in human PAH, testing the hypothesis that lipoprotein indices are more sensitive indices of IR in PAH.

Methods: Oral glucose tolerance testing in PAH patients and triglyceride-matched (TG-matched) controls and proteomic, metabolomics, and lipoprotein analyses were performed in PAH and controls. Results were validated in an external cohort and in explanted human PAH lungs.

Results: PAH patients were similarly glucose intolerant or IR by glucose homeostasis metrics compared with control patients when matched for the metabolic syndrome. Using the insulin-sensitive lipoprotein index, TG/HDL ratio, PAH patients were more commonly IR than controls. Proteomic and metabolomic analysis demonstrated separation between PAH and controls, driven by differences in lipid species. We observed a significant increase in long-chain acylcarnitines, phosphatidylcholines, insulin metabolism-related proteins, and in oxidized LDL receptor 1 (OLR1) in PAH plasma in both a discovery and validation cohort. PAH patients had higher lipoprotein axis-related IR and lipoprotein-based inflammation scores compared with controls. PAH patient lung tissue showed enhanced OLR1 immunostaining within plexiform lesions and oxidized LDL accumulation within macrophages.

Conclusions: IR in PAH is characterized by alterations in lipid and lipoprotein homeostasis axes, manifest by elevated TG/HDL ratio, and elevated circulating medium- and long-chain acylcarnitines and lipoproteins. Oxidized LDL and its receptor OLR1 may play a role in a proinflammatory phenotype in PAH.

Funding: NIH DK096994, HL060906, UL1 RR024975-01, UL1 TR000445-06, DK020593, P01 HL108800-01A1, and UL1 TR002243; American Heart Association 13FTF16070002.

Keywords: Cardiology; Hypertension; Insulin; Proteomics; Pulmonology.