Background: Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is associated with increased expression of VEGF-A (vascular endothelial growth factor A) and its receptor, VEGFR2 (vascular endothelial growth factor 2), but whether and how activation of VEGF-A signal participates in the pathogenesis of PH is unclear.
Methods: VEGF-A/VEGFR2 signal activation and VEGFR2 Y949-dependent vascular leak were investigated in lung samples from patients with PH and mice exposed to hypoxia. To study their mechanistic roles in hypoxic PH, we examined right ventricle systolic pressure, right ventricular hypertrophy, and pulmonary vasculopathy in mutant mice carrying knock-in of phenylalanine that replaced the tyrosine at residual 949 of VEGFR2 (Vefgr2Y949F) and mice with conditional endothelial deletion of Vegfr2 after chronic hypoxia exposure.
Results: We show that PH leads to excessive pulmonary vascular leak in both patients and hypoxic mice, and this is because of an overactivated VEGF-A/VEGFR2 Y949 signaling axis. In the context of hypoxic PH, activation of Yes1 and c-Src and subsequent VE-cadherin phosphorylation in endothelial cells are involved in VEGFR2 Y949-induced vascular permeability. Abolishing VEGFR2 Y949 signaling by Vefgr2Y949F point mutation was sufficient to prevent pulmonary vascular permeability and inhibit macrophage infiltration and Rac1 activation in smooth muscle cells under hypoxia exposure, thereby leading to alleviated PH manifestations, including muscularization of distal pulmonary arterioles, elevated right ventricle systolic pressure, and right ventricular hypertrophy. It is important that we found that VEGFR2 Y949 signaling in myeloid cells including macrophages was trivial and dispensable for hypoxia-induced vascular abnormalities and PH. In contrast with selective blockage of VEGFR2 Y949 signaling, disruption of the entire VEGFR2 signaling by conditional endothelial deletion of Vegfr2 promotes the development of PH.
Conclusions: Our results support the notion that VEGF-A/VEGFR2 Y949-dependent vascular permeability is an important determinant in the pathogenesis of PH and might serve as an attractive therapeutic target pathway for this disease.
Keywords: Src family kinase; VEGF-A; VEGFR2 Y949; hypoxic pulmonary hypertension; macrophage; single-cell RNA sequencing; smooth muscle; vascular permeability.