The Rho Kinase Isoforms ROCK1 and ROCK2 Each Contribute to the Development of Experimental Pulmonary Fibrosis

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Pulmonary fibrosis is thought to result from dysregulated wound repair after repetitive lung injury. Many cellular responses to injury involve rearrangements of the actin cytoskeleton mediated by the two isoforms of the Rho-associated coiled-coil-forming protein kinase (ROCK), ROCK1 and ROCK2. In addition, profibrotic mediators such as transforming growth factor-β, thrombin, and lysophosphatidic acid act through receptors that activate ROCK. Inhibition of ROCK activation may be a potent therapeutic strategy for human pulmonary fibrosis. Pharmacological inhibition of ROCK using nonselective ROCK inhibitors has been shown to prevent fibrosis in animal models; however, the specific roles of each ROCK isoform are poorly understood. Furthermore, the pleiotropic effects of this kinase have raised concerns about on-target adverse effects of ROCK inhibition such as hypotension. Selective inhibition of one isoform might be a better-tolerated strategy. In the present study, we used a genetic approach to determine the roles of ROCK1 and ROCK2 in a mouse model of bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis. Using ROCK1- or ROCK2-haploinsufficient mice, we found that reduced expression of either ROCK1 or ROCK2 was sufficient to protect them from bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis. In addition, we found that both isoforms contribute to the profibrotic responses of epithelial cells, endothelial cells, and fibroblasts. Interestingly, ROCK1- and ROCK2-haploinsufficient mice exhibited similar protection from bleomycin-induced vascular leak, myofibroblast differentiation, and fibrosis; however, ROCK1-haploinsufficient mice demonstrated greater attenuation of epithelial cell apoptosis. These findings suggest that selective inhibition of either ROCK isoform has the potential to be an effective therapeutic strategy for pulmonary fibrosis.

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