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Circ Res. 2018 Jun 8;122(12):1689-1702. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.117.312058. Epub 2018 Mar 15.

Dominant Role for Regulatory T Cells in Protecting Females Against Pulmonary Hypertension.

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From the Stanford University School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, CA (R.T., P.M., T.S., J.Q., M.S., L.P.N., A.L., M.R., A.H., L.A., M.R.N.).
VA Palo Alto Health Care System, CA (O.M., Y.-C.L., A.L., A.B.T., J.M.S., M.R.N.).
University of Limerick, President, Ireland (D.J.F.).
University of Colorado Denver, School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Aurora (B.B.G.).
Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Richmond (N.F.V.).
University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore (L.A.).
From the Stanford University School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, CA (R.T., P.M., T.S., J.Q., M.S., L.P.N., A.L., M.R., A.H., L.A., M.R.N.)



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.


To evaluate whether and how Treg deficiency differentially affects male and female rats in experimental PH.


Male and female athymic rnu/rnu rats, lacking Tregs, were treated with the VEGFR2 (vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2) inhibitor SU5416 or chronic hypoxia and evaluated for PH; some animals underwent Treg immune reconstitution before SU5416 administration. Plasma PGI2 (prostacyclin) levels were measured. Lung and right ventricles were assessed for the expression of the vasoprotective proteins COX-2 (cyclooxygenase 2), PTGIS (prostacyclin synthase), PDL-1 (programmed death ligand 1), and HO-1 (heme oxygenase 1). Inhibitors of these pathways were administered to athymic rats undergoing Treg immune reconstitution. Finally, human cardiac microvascular endothelial cells cocultured with Tregs were evaluated for COX-2, PDL-1, HO-1, and ER (estrogen receptor) expression, and culture supernatants were assayed for PGI2 and IL (interleukin)-10. SU5416-treatment and chronic hypoxia produced more severe PH in female than male athymic rats. Females were distinguished by greater pulmonary inflammation, augmented right ventricular fibrosis, lower plasma PGI2 levels, decreased lung COX-2, PTGIS, HO-1, and PDL-1 expression and reduced right ventricular PDL-1 levels. In both sexes, Treg immune reconstitution 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 PD-1 (programmed death 1)/PDL-1 pathways abrogated Treg protection. In vitro, human Tregs directly upregulated endothelial COX-2, PDL-1, HO-1, ERs and increased supernatant levels of PGI2 and IL-10.


In 2 animal models of PH based on Treg deficiency, females developed more severe PH than males. The data suggest that females are especially reliant on the normal Treg function to counteract the effects of pulmonary vascular injury leading to PH.


hypertension; prostacyclin; pulmonary sex; regulatory T cells

[Available on 2019-06-08]

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