Quercetin, an important dietary flavonoid has been demonstrated to potentially reverse or even prevent pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) progression. However, the effects of quercetin on apoptosis and autophagy in pulmonary arterial smooth muscle cells (PASMCs) have not yet been clearly elucidated. The current study found that quercetin significantly induce the apoptotic and autophagic capacities of PASMCs in vitro and in vivo in hypoxia. In addition, we found that quercetin increases FOXO1 (a major mediator in autophagy regulation) expression and transcriptional activity. Moreover, FOXO1 knockdown by siRNAs inhibited the phosphorylation of mTOR and 4E-BPI, which is downstream of P70-S6K, and markedly blocked quercetin-induced autophagy. We also observed that FOXO1-mediated autophagy was achieved via SESN3 not Rictor upregulation and after mTOR suppression. Furthermore, Treatment with autophagy-specific inhibitors could markedly enhance quercetin-induced apoptosis in PASMCs under hypoxia. Finally, quercetin in combination with autophagy inhibition treatment could enhance the therapeutic effects of quercetin in hypoxia-associated PAH in vivo. Taken together, quercetin could enhance hypoxia-induced autophagy through the FOXO1-SENS3-mTOR pathway in PASMCs. Combining quercetin and autophagy inhibitors may be a novel therapeutic strategy for treating hypoxia-associated PAH.Graphical abstract
Graphical summary showing the mechanisms mediating the activation of FOXO1 in quercetin-induced apoptosis and autophagy signal cascade.