Extracellular Calpain/Calpastatin Balance Is Involved in the Progression of Pulmonary Hypertension

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Excessive growth of pulmonary arterial (PA) smooth muscle cells (SMCs) is a major component of PA hypertension (PAH). The calcium-activated neutral cysteine proteases calpains 1 and 2, expressed by PASMCs, contribute to PH but are tightly controlled by a single specific inhibitor, calpastatin. Our objective was to investigate calpastatin during pulmonary hypertension (PH) progression and its potential role as an intracellular and/or extracellular effector. We assessed calpains and calpastatin in patients with idiopathic PAH and mice with hypoxic or spontaneous (SM22-5HTT+ strain) PH. To assess intracellular and extracellular roles for calpastatin, we studied effects of the calpain inhibitor PD150606 on hypoxic PH in mice with calpastatin overexpression driven by the cytomegalovirus promoter (CMV-Cast) or C-reactive protein (CRP) promoter (CRP-Cast), inducing increased calpastatin production ubiquitously and in the liver, respectively. Chronically hypoxic and SM22-5HTT+ mice exhibited increased lung calpastatin and calpain 1 and 2 protein levels and activity, both intracellularly and extracellularly. Prominent calpastatin and calpain immunostaining was found in PASMCs of remodeled vessels in mice and patients with PAH, who also exhibited increased plasma calpastatin levels. CMV-Cast and CRP-Cast mice showed similarly decreased PH severity compared with wild-type mice, with no additional effect of PD150606 treatment. In cultured PASMCs from wild-type and CMV-Cast mice, exogenous calpastatin decreased cell proliferation and migration with similar potency as PD150606 and suppressed fibronectin-induced potentiation. These results indicate that calpastatin limits PH severity via extracellular mechanisms. They suggest a new approach to the development of treatments for PH.

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