Background: Hypoxia is a major cause and promoter of pulmonary hypertension (PH), a representative vascular remodeling disease with poor prognosis and high mortality. However, the mechanism underlying how pulmonary arterial system responds to hypoxic stress during PH remains unclear. Endothelial mitochondria are considered signaling organelles on oxygen tension. Results from previous clinical research and our studies suggested a potential role of posttranslational SUMOylation (small ubiquitin-like modifier modification) in endothelial mitochondria in hypoxia-related vasculopathy.
Methods: Chronic hypoxia mouse model and Sugen/hypoxia rat model were employed as PH animal models. Mitochondrial morphology and subcellular structure were determined by transmission electron and immunofluorescent microscopies. Mitochondrial metabolism was determined by mitochondrial oxygen consumption rate and extracellular acidification rate. SUMOylation and protein interaction were determined by immunoprecipitation.
Results: The involvement of SENP1 (sentrin-specific protease 1)-mediated SUMOylation in mitochondrial remodeling in the pulmonary endothelium was identified in clinical specimens of hypoxia-related PH and was verified in human pulmonary artery endothelial cells under hypoxia. Further analyses in clinical specimens, hypoxic rat and mouse PH models, and human pulmonary artery endothelial cells and human embryonic stem cell-derived endothelial cells revealed that short-term hypoxia-induced SENP1 translocation to endothelial mitochondria to regulate deSUMOylation (the reversible process of SUMOylation) of mitochondrial fission protein FIS1 (mitochondrial fission 1), which facilitated FIS1 assembling with fusion protein MFN2 (mitofusin 2) and mitochondrial gatekeeper VDAC1 (voltage-dependent anion channel 1), and the membrane tethering activity of MFN2 by enhancing its oligomerization. Consequently, FIS1 deSUMOylation maintained the mitochondrial integrity and endoplasmic reticulum-mitochondria calcium communication across mitochondrial-associated membranes, subsequently preserving pulmonary endothelial function and vascular homeostasis. In contrast, prolonged hypoxia disabled the FIS1 deSUMOylation by diminishing the availability of SENP1 in mitochondria via inducing miR (micro RNA)-138 and consequently resulted in mitochondrial dysfunction and metabolic reprogramming in pulmonary endothelium. Functionally, introduction of viral-packaged deSUMOylated FIS1 within pulmonary endothelium in mice improved pulmonary endothelial dysfunction and hypoxic PH development, while knock-in of SUMO (small ubiquitin-like modifier)-conjugated FIS1 in mice exaggerated the diseased cellular and tissue phenotypes.
Conclusions: By maintaining endothelial mitochondrial homeostasis, deSUMOylation of FIS1 adaptively preserves pulmonary endothelial function against hypoxic stress and consequently protects against PH. The FIS1 deSUMOylation-SUMOylation transition in pulmonary endothelium is an intrinsic pathogenesis of hypoxic PH.
Keywords: endothelial cells; hypertension, pulmonary; hypoxia; mitochondria; sumoylation.