A Dominant Role for Regulatory T Cells in Protecting Females Against Pulmonary Hypertension
Rationale: Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PH) is a life-threatening condition associated with immune dysregulation and abnormal regulatory T cell (Treg) activity, but it is currently unknown whether and how abnormal Treg function differentially affects males and females.
Objective: To evaluate whether and how Treg-deficiency differentially affects male and female rats in experimental PH.
Methods and Results: Male and female athymic rnu/rnu rats, lacking Tregs, were treated with the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (VEGFR2) inhibitor SU5416 or chronic hypoxia and evaluated for PH; some animals underwent Treg immune reconstitution (IR) before SU5416 administration. Plasma prostacyclin (PGI2) levels were measured. Lung and right ventricles (RVs) were assessed for the expression of the vasoprotective proteins cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), prostacyclin synthase (PTGIS), programmed death ligand-1 (PDL-1), and heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1). Inhibitors of these pathways were administered to athymic rats undergoing Treg IR. Finally, human cardiac microvascular endothelial cells co-cultured with Tregs were evaluated for COX-2, PDL-1, HO-1, and estrogen receptor (ER) expression, and culture supernatants were assayed for PGI2 and IL-10. SU5416-treatment and chronic hypoxia produced more severe PH in female than male athymic rats. Females were distinguished by greater pulmonary inflammation, augmented RV fibrosis, lower plasma PGI2 levels, decreased lung COX-2, PTGIS, HO-1 and PDL-1 expression and reduced RV PDL-1 levels. In both sexes, Treg IR protected against PH development and raised levels of plasma PGI2 and cardiopulmonary COX-2, PTGIS, PDL-1, and HO-1. Inhibiting COX-2, HO-1, and programmed death-1 (PD1)/PDL1 pathways abrogated Treg protection. In vitro, human Tregs directly upregulated endothelial COX-2, PDL1, HO-1, ERs and increased supernatant levels of PGI2 and IL-10.
Conclusions: In two animal models of PH based on Treg deficiency, females developed more severe PH than males. The data suggest that females are especially reliant on normal Treg function to counteract the effects of pulmonary vascular injury leading to PH.
- regulatory T cells
- severe pulmonary hypertension
- pulmonary hypertension
- immune system
- Received September 12, 2017.
- Revision received March 9, 2018.
- Accepted March 13, 2018.