Activation of the Metabolic Master Regulator PPARγ: A Potential PIOneering Therapy for Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2020 Feb;62(2):143-156. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2019-0226PS.


Translational research is essential to the development of reverse-remodeling strategies for the treatment of pulmonary vascular disease, pulmonary hypertension, and heart failure via mechanistic in vivo studies using animal models resembling human pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), cardiovascular remodeling, and progressive right heart failure. Since 2007, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) agonists have emerged as promising novel, antiproliferative, antiinflammatory, insulin-sensitizing, efficient medications for the treatment of PAH. However, early diabetes study results, their subsequent misinterpretations, errors in published review articles, and rumors regarding potential adverse effects in the literature have dampened enthusiasm for considering pharmacological PPARγ activation for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, including PAH. Most recently, the thiazolidinedione class PPARγ agonist pioglitazone underwent a clinical revival, especially based on the IRIS (Insulin Resistance Intervention After Stroke) study, a randomized controlled trial in 3,876 patients without diabetes status post-transient ischemic attack/ischemic stroke who were clinically followed for 4.8 years. We discuss preclinical basic translational findings and randomized controlled trials related to the beneficial and adverse effects of PPARγ agonists of the thiazolidinedione class, with a particular focus on the last 5 years. The objective is a data-driven approach to set the preclinical and clinical study record straight. The convincing recent clinical trial data on the lack of significant toxicity in high-risk populations justify the timely conduct of clinical studies to achieve "repurposing" or "repositioning" of pioglitazone for the treatment of clinical PAH.

Keywords: metabolism; peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor; pioglitazone; pulmonary hypertension; repurposing drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Familial Primary Pulmonary Hypertension / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / drug therapy
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / metabolism
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / drug effects
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / metabolism
  • PPAR gamma / metabolism*
  • Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension / drug therapy*
  • Thiazolidinediones / pharmacology


  • PPAR gamma
  • Thiazolidinediones
  • 2,4-thiazolidinedione