Endothelin-1 is a potent vasoactive peptide that occurs in chronically high levels in humans with pulmonary hypertension and in animal models of the disease. Recently, the unfolded protein response was implicated in a variety of diseases, including pulmonary hypertension. In addition, evidence is increasing for pathological, persistent inflammation in the pathobiology of this disease. We investigated whether endothelin-1 might engage the unfolded protein response and thus link inflammation and the production of hyaluronic acid by pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells. Using immunoblot, real-time PCR, immunofluorescence, and luciferase assays, we found that endothelin-1 induces both a transcriptional and posttranslational activation of the three major arms of the unfolded protein response. The pharmacologic blockade of endothelin A receptors, but not endothelin B receptors, attenuated the observed release, as did a pharmacologic blockade of extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2 (ERK-1/2) signaling. Using short hairpin RNA and ELISA, we observed that the release by pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells of inflammatory modulators, including hyaluronic acid, is associated with endothelin-1-induced ERK-1/2 phosphorylation and the unfolded protein response. Furthermore, the synthesis of hyaluronic acid induced by endothelin-1 is permissive for persistent THP-1 monocyte binding. These results suggest that endothelin-1, in part because it induces the unfolded protein response in pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells, triggers proinflammatory processes that likely contribute to vascular remodeling in pulmonary hypertension.
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