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J Rare Dis Res Treat. 2016;1(2):17-24.

Apoptosis-based therapy to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension.

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Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington DC 20007 USA.
Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington DC 20007 USA; Department of Pharmacology, Minia University School of Medicine, Minia, Egypt.


Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is rare, but patients who are diagnosed with this disease still suffer from a lack of satisfactory treatment strategies to prolong survival. While currently approved drugs for PAH have some benefits, these vasodilators only have limited efficacy for eliminating pulmonary vascular remodeling and reducing mortality. Thus, our laboratory has been exploring the use of aggressive drugs, which are capable of causing apoptotic cell death, to treat PAH. We have so far found that three classes of anti-tumor agents, including anthracyclines, taxanes, and proteasome inhibitors, are capable of reducing pulmonary vascular thickness in rats with PAH. These drugs kill cells in remodeled pulmonary vessels without affecting the normal, healthy pulmonary vasculature, revealing that proliferating vascular cells in PAH patients are more sensitive to drug-induced apoptosis compared to the differentiated phenotype that is physiologically important for smooth muscle contraction. Since many apoptosis-inducing drugs cause cardiotoxicity in cancer patients, and because PAH patients already have a weakened heart, we focus on finding biological mechanisms that may reverse pulmonary vascular remodeling without promoting cardiotoxicity. We found two agents, dexrazoxane and pifithrin-α, that selectively inhibit cardiac muscle apoptosis without affecting the drug-induced apoptosis of the proliferating pulmonary vascular cells. Thus, we propose that the addition of apoptosis-inducing drugs and cardioprotectants to PAH therapies may be effective in treating patients and preventing right heart failure.


Anti-tumor drugs; Apoptosis; Cancer chemotherapeutic agents; Pulmonary arterial hypertension; Pulmonary hypertension; Right heart failure; Right ventricle; Vascular remodeling


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