Differential hypertensive protease expression in the thoracic versus abdominal aorta

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Hypertension (HTN), which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, can drive pathologic remodeling of the macro- and microcirculation. Patterns of aortic pathology differ, however, suggesting regional heterogeneity of the pressure-sensitive protease systems triggering extracellular matrix remodeling in the thoracic (TA) and abdominal aortas (AA). This study tested the hypothesis that the expression of two major protease systems (matrix metalloproteinases [MMPs] and cathepsins) in the TA and AA would be differentially affected with HTN.


Normotensive (BPN3) mice at 14-16 weeks of age underwent implantation of osmotic infusion pumps for 28-day angiotensin II (AngII) delivery (1.46 mg/kg/day; BPN3+AngII; n = 8) to induce HTN. The TA and AA were harvested to determine levels of MMP-2, MMP-9, and membrane type 1-MMP, and cathepsins S, K, and L were evaluated in age-matched BPN3 (n = 8) control and BPH2 spontaneously hypertensive mice (non-AngII pathway; n = 7). Blood pressure was monitored via CODA tail cuff plethysmography (Kent Scientific Corporation, Torrington, Conn). Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction and immunoblotting/zymography were used to measure MMP and cathepsin messenger RNA expression and protein abundance, respectively. Target protease values were compared within each aortic region via analysis of variance.


Following 28 days infusion, the BPN3+AngII mice had a 17% increase in systolic blood pressure, matching that of the BPH2 spontaneously hypertensive mice (both P < .05 vs BPN3). MMP-2 gene expression demonstrated an AngII-dependent increase in the TA (P < .05), but MMP-9 was not altered with HTN. Expression of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-1 was markedly increased in TA of BPN3+AngII mice, but tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-2 demonstrated decreased expression in the AA of both hypertensive groups (P < .05). Only cathepsin K responded to AngII-induced HTN with significant elevation in the TA of those mice, but expression of cathepsin L and cystatin C was inhibited in AA of both hypertensive groups (P < .05). Apoptotic markers were not significantly elevated in any experimental group.


By using two different models of HTN, this study has identified pressure-dependent as well as AngII-dependent regional alterations in aortic gene expression of MMPs and cathepsins that may lead to differential remodeling responses in each of the aortic regions. Further studies will delineate mechanisms and may provide targeted therapies to attenuate down-stream aortic pathology based on demonstrated regional heterogeneity.

Clinical Relevance

Hypertension represents a primary risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Given the epidemiologic association with aortic aneurysms, interest has been generated regarding whether the hypertensive state creates an environment in the aortic media that is vulnerable to degenerative remodeling. This investigation has been initiated by exploring two major protease systems, the matrix metalloproteinases and the cathepsins, and addresses the hypothesis that hypertension differentially regulates the expression of two major protease systems in the thoracic aorta vs abdominal aorta. Understanding region-specific protease expression may allow for engineering of targeted aortic therapy.

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