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Circulation. 2006 Jun 6;113(22):2630-41. Epub 2006 May 30.

An abnormal mitochondrial-hypoxia inducible factor-1alpha-Kv channel pathway disrupts oxygen sensing and triggers pulmonary arterial hypertension in fawn hooded rats: similarities to human pulmonary arterial hypertension.

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  • 1Vascular Biology Group, Division of Cardiology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.



The cause of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) was investigated in humans and fawn hooded rats (FHR), a spontaneously pulmonary hypertensive strain.


Serial Doppler echocardiograms and cardiac catheterizations were performed in FHR and FHR/BN1, a consomic control that is genetically identical except for introgression of chromosome 1. PAH began after 20 weeks of age, causing death by &60 weeks. FHR/BN1 did not develop PAH. FHR pulmonary arterial smooth muscle cells (PASMCs) had a rarified reticulum of hyperpolarized mitochondria with reduced expression of electron transport chain components and superoxide dismutase-2. These mitochondrial abnormalities preceded PAH and persisted in culture. Depressed mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) production caused normoxic activation of hypoxia inducible factor (HIF-1alpha), which then inhibited expression of oxygen-sensitive, voltage-gated K+ channels (eg, Kv1.5). Disruption of this mitochondrial-HIF-Kv pathway impaired oxygen sensing (reducing hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction, causing polycythemia), analogous to the pathophysiology of chronically hypoxic Sprague-Dawley rats. Restoring ROS (exogenous H2O2) or blocking HIF-1alpha activation (dominant-negative HIF-1alpha) restored Kv1.5 expression/function. Dichloroacetate, a mitochondrial pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase inhibitor, corrected the mitochondrial-HIF-Kv pathway in FHR-PAH and human PAH PASMCs. Oral dichloroacetate regressed FHR-PAH and polycythemia, increasing survival. Chromosome 1 genes that were dysregulated in FHRs and relevant to the mitochondria-HIF-Kv pathway included HIF-3alpha (an HIF-1alpha repressor), mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase, and superoxide dismutase-2. Like FHRs, human PAH-PASMCs had dysmorphic, hyperpolarized mitochondria; normoxic HIF-1alpha activation; and reduced expression/activity of HIF-3alpha, cytochrome c oxidase, and superoxide dismutase-2.


FHRs have a chromosome 1 abnormality that disrupts a mitochondria-ROS-HIF-Kv pathway, leading to PAH. Similar abnormalities occur in idiopathic human PAH. This study reveals an intersection between oxygen-sensing mechanisms and PAH. The mitochondria-ROS-HIF-Kv pathway offers new targets for PAH therapy.

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