Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a morbid disease characterized by progressive right ventricle (RV) failure due to elevated pulmonary artery pressures (PAP). In PAH, histologically complex vaso-occlusive lesions in the pulmonary vasculature contribute to elevated PAP. However, the mechanisms underlying dysfunction of the microvascular endothelial cells (MVECs) that comprise a significant portion of these lesions are not well understood. We recently showed that MVECs isolated from the Sugen/hypoxia (SuHx) rat experimental model of PAH (SuHx-MVECs) exhibit increases in migration/proliferation, mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS; mtROS) production, intracellular calcium levels ([Ca2+]i), and mitochondrial fragmentation. Furthermore, quenching mtROS with the targeted antioxidant MitoQ attenuated basal [Ca2+]i, migration and proliferation; however, whether increased mtROS-induced [Ca2+]i entry affected mitochondrial morphology was not clear. In this study, we sought to better understand the relationship between increased ROS, [Ca2+]i, and mitochondrial morphology in SuHx-MVECs. We measured changes in mitochondrial morphology at baseline and following inhibition of mtROS, with the targeted antioxidant MitoQ, or transient receptor potential vanilloid-4 (TRPV4) channels, which we previously showed were responsible for mtROS-induced increases in [Ca2+]i in SuHx-MVECs. Quenching mtROS or inhibiting TRPV4 attenuated fragmentation in SuHx-MVECs. Conversely, inducing mtROS production in MVECs from normoxic rats (N-MVECs) increased fragmentation. Ca2+ entry induced by the TRPV4 agonist GSK1017920A was significantly increased in SuHx-MVECs and was attenuated with MitoQ treatment, indicating that mtROS contributes to increased TRPV4 activity in SuHx-MVECs. Basal and maximal respiration were depressed in SuHx-MVECs, and inhibiting mtROS, but not TRPV4, improved respiration in these cells. Collectively, our data show that, in SuHx-MVECs, mtROS production promotes TRPV4-mediated increases in [Ca2+]i, mitochondrial fission, and decreased mitochondrial respiration. These results suggest an important role for mtROS in driving MVEC dysfunction in PAH.
Keywords: PAH; calcium; endothelium; mitochondria.